Season 2 Episode 9
Christina Tosi, founder and chefHow to defy the rules and nurture your creativity
Christina Tosi is a chef and the founder and CEO of Milk Bar, a unique bakery concept reinventing classics like cereal and birthday cake with plenty of imagination. Creativity is the spirit of Milk Bar and a throughline for everything Christina does, but it can be hard to run a business without some of the traditional, tried-and-true practices.
Tune in to find out how Christina struck a balance between her role as CEO and her artistic inspiration to create an amazing culture and serve delicious baked goods around the world.
Christina Tosi is a chef and the founder and CEO of Milk Bar. She’s seen success on every side of the business thanks to her incredible discipline, inspiring creativity and her “just bake the cake” mindset.
Christina’s story is a wonderful example of how entrepreneurs can learn the traditional rules of business so they can defy them with style and savvy along the way.
This is part two of our conversation with Christina Tosi. Check out part one of the interview if you’d like to catch up.
In this episode, you'll hear Chrisina Tosi discuss:
- Making every day count
- Trying new things and prioritizing flexibility
- Nurturing your creativity
- Evolving despite fear of the unknown
- Doubling down on what your customers love most
- Streamlining your operations
- Creating the right culture for your business
- Knowing that how you do anything is how you do everything
- Learning how to bend the rules
- Adopting a “just bake the cake” mindset
- Realizing your true impact
- Rapid-fire questions
Making every day count
Chris: That's good. Have you ever heard the saying, most people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in 10? And I like something you talk about — I think it was something along the lines of defying what's possible in a day. So talk to us a little bit about that. What is the way? How do you attack a day?
Christina: With all might. My favorite thing to do is to surprise myself. It's my favorite thing to do. I'm an introvert, so my favorite thing to do is to force myself to do things that are very uncomfortable for me socially. It stinks. My head is going, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. We don't want to do this. We don't want to do it.” But my favorite thing to do is to push myself out of my comfort zone and to surprise myself. And in a day I'm looking at everything from the calendar on my phone to say, “OK, whose birthday is it? Who's celebrating something? What time am I waking up? What can I squeeze into moments and days? How can I pack my day full of challenge and progress and productivity?” But also I like to pepper in whatever it is, like, “All right, can you do 100 pushups today?”
It's not just challenging myself from a professional standpoint and challenging myself in those ways, or who haven't you called and said hi to in a while? Who haven't you gone on a walk with? How do you challenge how you show up in the world and all the ways in which are important to you? And for me, it's more than just being in business and building Milk Bar. And I love that because I get home at the end of the day, whether it's super late at night or early or whatever it is, and I take stock of the day truly, and I go, “How did I do today? What did I do that pushed me a little further, made me better?” I can't get everything done. I can't do all of those things in a day. But those are some examples for me of when I take stock at the end of the day, what makes me feel good? I showed up for a coworker who’s having a hard time; I had a difficult conversation even though it was hard and awkward to have.
All of those realistic things – did I grow or did I help the place, the community that I'm a part of become better by modeling, by action, whatever it is? I can't defy gravity. Gravity is a pretty set formula here on Earth, but I like to defy what I can do in a day. I am truly in Gretaland, I like rules. I like to know what the rules are. And then I really love to challenge who makes the rules? And who says that is the rule? Who says I can't do this early in the morning or in the middle of my day or late at night? I think that is a mindset that serves entrepreneurs on every level because the second you say, “Oh, it's my rule book to write,” so much possibility truly opens up to you.
Trying new things and prioritizing flexibility
Chris: See, that's amazing because what you're talking about, I love this effervescence of just all this creativity of all these different things. You're like 100 push-ups, and who haven't I called? And all these things are bubbling up. I think what is amazing about what you're talking about is this is a practice and a routine that seems to come naturally to you. That doesn't come naturally to everybody, but it sounds like you've been practicing this, building this muscle where you're like, “I got to push.” And so what I'm wondering is do you think that the practice of making yourself uncomfortable maybe unlocked additional creativity?
Christina: Oh, for sure it does. For sure it does. For sure it did. When you learn how to unlock that creative door in your head, it's much easier to create. It's much easier to problem-solve. It's much easier to deal with whatever hand you're dealt in a day, in a week, in life, and it forces you to not just take the first option or the first door when something goes great or doesn't go as planned. It forces you to be flexible and nimble in your mind. And I think that is an incredible skill to tether, doing the thing that you're passionate about. There are things that are rigid, and then there are things that are flexible. Like rigidity — it's a baked good, it's dessert. There are things that are always going to be true and then things that don't have to be true at all.
And I think that mindset, it's a survival mechanism. It's both a skill and a survival mechanism because if you're always flexible in mind, then when someone tells you something's not possible, “Bad idea. Don't open the business. Don't grow the business. Don't do it this way. Do it that way.” It forces you to acknowledge that everything is ever-changing, and everything is an evolution, and no one has all the answers. Those are very big survival pieces of building a business and operating a business.
I think about the years of Milk Bar, and I think about the ebbs and the flows, and if I was rigid in my thinking, we would never be able to get to where we are today. I mean, I probably would never open a business because it's a terrible business idea to open a bakery thinking I'm going to make you a chocolate chip cookie, but there's not going to be all chocolate chips. It's going to have pretzels and potato chips and butterscotch and oats and graham crackers. I'm going to put a little bit of coffee in it because it just makes sense. We're not going to serve vanilla ice cream, but we're going to serve this ice cream that tastes like what's left in your bowl after you eat all the cereal out of it. This idea that breaking convention would actually be a thing that lights other people's souls and bellies and imagination on fire.
But I really think it's about the flexibility and the nimbleness of mind that allows us even outside of business to survive as humans. What we do on a regular basis makes no sense in a perfect sense. The world that we live in evolves and is evolving quicker than we're going to be able to absorb and adapt to.
And so getting really uncomfortable and loving being uncomfortable because it humiliates us, but it also humbles us. These tensions I think are just some of the healthiest things. And the second you get comfortable being uncomfortable, the second you're not the awkward younger daughter, the redhead, the second that all the things that you think are negatives are like, “Oh, that's my thing.” The second you acknowledge that you're the one in control and it's just about how you see it and how you reference it because you're flexible in thought, that can change every single day.
Chris: That's awesome. I wonder, when you were starting up Milk Bar, what was the thing that maybe surprised you the most? Or what's the most memorable thing that you were like, “Ah, I didn't know that was going to happen?”
Christina: This is a good one. One of my first lessons that I learned in opening Milk Bar was I have this great idea. It's this quirky American-style bakery. We're going to do riffs on cookies, cakes, pies, and ice cream, formats that people know, but in flavor combinations and techniques that are super cool that make sense to us. And the menu is going to have all of those great ideas on it because you’ve got to give it your all. Chris, I opened the doors...
Chris: Let's make it crowded on the menu.
Christina: I mean, I opened the doors that first day, and I think three or four days in, I mean that line moved at a snail's pace. One, because we had no clue what we were doing running a bakery. We had maybe worked at bakeries before, but we hadn't thought about, I don't know, mock service in the restaurant industry, we'd call it friends and family. You invite your friends. They're going to be the least judgmental people to come and be our guinea pigs. But I realized that the most important thing that I realized was that not every single one of your great ideas needs to hold space in your business at any given time.
I mean, I had overwhelmed our incredible customers in the East Village of New York City with so many options and not options like, “Do you want a chocolate chunk cookie or do you want a peanut butter chocolate chunk cookie?” It's like, “Do you want a pistachio lemon layered cake with milk crumbs?” So you can make your own milkshake by choosing these six different flavors of soft serve, these eight different flavors of milk. I think I had 12 different toppings for your soft serve, including fingerling potato chips; the little fingerling potatoes. We would Microplane them into—
Chris: Oh, my gosh.
Christina: ...cold water, and fry them fresh every morning and salt them. We were so in love with the pursuit of this idea that we couldn't see the forest through the trees. We did eventually. But this idea of knowing how and when to edit yourself and the idea that you can have a bunch of great ideas, and you can be flexible about how and when you try the different ideas on for size. It's not to say any of them were a bad idea, but one of your worst ideas could be trying to prove all of your great ideas are great ideas at the same time. And being really humble to say for us, opening Milk Bar, opening this business…of course, it's a passion. There is an ego to it. There is a pursuit about it, but it's the Greta-ness of delivering a plate of cookies. I'm doing it because I want to feed you something that's going to just get you right. It's going to speak to your soul. It's going to make you feel seen. It's going to tap into something and make you feel new.
So it's not really about how many things I think are great ideas on the menu, as long as I have a mechanism to know how something great makes it to the menu, and that we're doing it in service of people. So whatever they say is the most meaningful and sticky and delicious. It's a conversation. It's a conversation whether you realize it's a conversation or not.
And we were able to figure out, even though inevitably you're going to pull something off the menu that is someone's favorite cookie, or cake, or pie, but you realize that you show up every day for the people who you work with, but you all collectively choose to show up every day because of the work you do in the world. And from there, does it matter whether it's a birthday cake or I don't know, carrot cake, cream cheese frosting, soft serve? No, because as long as all those things bring us joy, it just matters what thing is going to bring you the most joy. So the editing process and the humility that it takes I think is really important. And finding that balance of passion and science or art in science I think is really important.
Chris: That was one of the things I really wanted to chat with you about is the artistry versus the science of some of this. What I see is that you're trying to create a connection. If you can invite people into your passion and they enjoy it with you, there's a connection. And the connections don't happen through clutter. They come through whatever you're doing, and you have to... it's like I always say, “A confused mind always says no.” And if people come in and there's like a long line and they're like, “I'm confused. I'm going to walk out.” Or “Man, this menu's giant.”
Very few restaurants can make the leap from lots of options, and the approach of “Hey, execute your own creativity.”Because that's a very particular type of buyer, type of customer, for them to execute their own creativity. They want to experience yours. And for you to curate that, I believe is the best way to foster a connection. If you can understand your customers and experiment with some things, knowing that there are going to be some misses and there are going to be some big hits, that is fostering the connection. That's creating the connection, and it introduces you to more and more people. And then you've got different gates that the business can go through when you've created that connection.
Christina: It's true. It's true. We talk a lot when we're creating at Milk Bar, even today, 14 years in, we talk a lot about the fact that we love the things that we make, and that there's this interesting dichotomy because it is the compliment of a lifetime that people say, “The Milk Bar birthday cake is the birthday cake. It's my birthday cake. It's my family's birthday cake. It's my best friend's birthday cake. It's the cake we go back to every single year.” It is the compliment of a freaking lifetime.
Chris: For sure.
Christina: And when we're in our kitchen, our R&D department, our research and development, or research and desserts department, we are constantly looking at that birthday cake and we love it, but we're also looking at it and we're going, “Who's going to dethrone the birthday cake? Who's got the next flavor combo? Who's got the next idea?” So I think it's both really, it's the Sisyphean nature of rolling that boulder up a hill and loving that part of the business while also being flexible and nimble of thought to say, “What else do we have?” I think a great business needs both. You don't have the trust and the confidence of your customer base, whoever your customer base is, if you can't prove that you are trustworthy and reliable and constant and consistent every single day. Being that in business also makes you a great human being because that's what we all want in life — people who we can attach those adjectives to while also feeling fresh and new like there's always an opportunity to invent or reinvent and revisit. And I think that mix of art and science is really important, and it really is a hallmark of Milk Bar.
Nurturing your creativity
Even when I look around at other chefs, what I have ascertained, at least in the 25-plus years I've been in the industry, is that I think the chefs who look back and go, “I don't understand. I was doing something. And then it stopped being this thing,” find it really hard as a creative person to be consistent and do the same thing every day because that doesn't feed the creative parts of our brains. And we think that if we're not feeding the creative parts of our brains, we're not being successful creatives. But I would beg to argue that to be successful, you need both.
Some people don't think they're not creative at all, by the way, which I am a very big proponent of demystifying in people. It's like people saying, “I'm not a baker. That's not my thing.” Baking might not be your thing, but being creative and pushing yourself into an identity that maybe you just haven't discovered yourself, we're both right brain and left brain. We're both art and science, and I think a great business has to be both in order to be successful over a long period of time.
Chris: It is reinvention.
Christina: Not one year of success or five years of success, but really making your business stand the test time. If you're super passionate about it, you don't want it to go anywhere. You only want it to continue to gain success. I think that's an important formula.
Chris: It's really interesting, you talking about creativity, art, and science. And there's the routine, or maybe not the routine, the discipline that you put into stretching yourself and doing something new or finding a way to challenge yourself, that created some creative muscle there. And I think you had to do the same thing with the business — challenging yourself to try something new and to create space for that experimentation. And it sounds like that's what you're doing. Because I think one of the best things about businesses like yours is being able to reinvent it while also maintaining what made you great.
Christina: That's exactly it. That's exactly it. I remember the day. I don't know how far it was to Milk Bar, but I remember the day that I had to have the conversation with myself to call myself out and go, “Hey, guess what girlfriend? You are being so protective of the business.” My business journey, which I think is many people's business journey is you have this idea. It doesn't exist in the world. You with all of your might figure out how to take one step forward, how to get it open, how to just start somewhere. Something happens. It's an opportunity to take a step forward day in and day out. You have a business. You have a business, you can pay your bills. You've got it figured out. You're having a good time, you're figuring it out. You've got a business that's not going anywhere.
Evolving despite fear of the unknown
I did this thing, which I think is quite common in business, where you start to fear things. You all of a sudden have people depending on you, whether it's your team, or your customers, or your family, or all of those people. And you've found your groove, but you almost get comfortable in your groove. It's somewhere between when you first start when you have proven that you figured it out, but it's before what I would call the messy middle, which I'll come back to, where you are worried. Somehow this dialogue happens in your head, where now you have a lot of people to protect. You have a lot of people counting on you. You have all these things that you never had to worry about before because you just had to prove that your passion and your idea could exist and that it was a good idea.
And I stopped being flexible in thinking. I stopped applying these very principles to our business. And what was happening was the world around us was changing so much quicker than we were able to grow. The needs of the business, even from a resource standpoint, were more than we were bringing in as profit year over year. More than anything, our customers needed and were looking for and were curious about things that we just weren't necessarily meeting their needs. We took years to be on social media, years because I was like, “We run a bakery. This sounds like white noise.” I literally almost became my grandma. I really embodied that “I can't wait to be an old lady.”
But somewhere in between I got too big for my britches of “I know what our business is. I know who we are. I know what makes us tick.” To almost the fear of the unknown because it felt like white noise or the lack of focus. And I totally missed the obvious piece, which is, your business is a living, breathing thing. You have to keep your finger on the pulse of it. You have to always be thinking and open. You're going to make mistakes. You're going to be rigid when you should be flexible, etcetera, etcetera. But they're all really humbling moments. And I remember the day that I was like, “What are we doing? The only thing that's holding this business back is me.” And it was because I was operating from a place of fear. I was operating from a place of a very rigid mindset, a fear of the unknown.
They're all real things that are going to happen to all of us in business where I don't know what the answer is. To your point, I can't make a decision, so I'm just going to say “no” to everything. But I think every single entrepreneur in the span of their business' lifetime has to get to a point where they say, “The thing that's holding this business back is me.” Because as leaders, as entrepreneurs, we're living, breathing humans that are fallible and are going to evolve sometimes in the wrong direction from the needs of the business.
Chris: Yeah. I think what you're saying is one of the most powerful things that you've really talked about: a commitment to paying attention. You're sitting there talking about how you can be creative, and how you can check in on yourself and check in on the business. And if you're paying close attention, you're going to see the signals and think, “Hey, you know what? Things are changing. The world around us is changing. The customer is changing.”
The thing that I think is interesting is that failure tends to be a surprise. If you're paying attention, it shouldn't be a surprise. Now, macroeconomic climate aside, the reality is if you're paying attention, the fear of failure should diminish because you're listening. I think that that's really a powerful thing, but you built that practice of paying attention. You built that practice of checking in on yourself, and you've built that in.
You remember when you first learned how to drive a car? You had to think how to not be a passenger anymore. And then you had to start doing all of the things, but then you were being a driver, and now it's the autonomic nervous system taking over, and I don't even remember what turns I took. And that is what I think you've been able to do in 14 years. Taking some of the mental gymnastics that you were really good at in your personal life into this entrepreneurial journey in 14 years. You've been able to distill that routine, and it's just you now instead of thinking, “I'm just naturally a good baker. I'm naturally a good entrepreneur.” I'm really naturally good at paying attention.
Christina: That's a good point. It goes back to that you pay attention to yourself first because that is what's going to guide you in all of it. But you're right; check in, pay attention. They seem like such simple things. You almost have to laugh when you say them. I certainly do.
Chris: Yeah, they seem so small and trite, but it's a big deal.
Christina: They're all big deals.
Doubling down on what your customers love most
Chris: One of the things that has been really awesome about your story is it has really made me feel what it feels like to be an entrepreneur and the nostalgia. I know you've talked about nostalgia and looking back and seeing all the wonderful things and the beautiful things that have happened along the way, even though some of them are hard. And something that I found really interesting about Milk Bar is how you've started and how you've built out. One of the things that I really remember you talking about was that once you start up, you've got the nexus of an idea, but the next stage in a startup is product-market fit and it's like you find your audience and you find what you're able to do.
And so all that decluttering that you did, you have this fit that happened, and I wonder, did that happen in the first location? So when did the product-market fit thing happen? What was the sign that you knew you had something to build out more of a foundation for the business?
Christina: It's such a good question. I knew we were onto something on day one, and I don't take that statement lightly because I don't say it in a bragging sense. I showed up at early baker hours, which was somewhere between 4 and 5 a.m., to open up the rusty gate on 13th Street and Second Avenue. And there was a line out the door, not out the door, a line around the corner because the door wasn't open yet. And I thought to myself, who are these people, and what do they think they're waiting in line for? But through that first day through opening day, despite — Chris, I forgot to write the menu. We literally took the top off of a stainless steel table, hung it up from the ceiling, used a dry-erase marker we found downstairs and just started scribbling. I have the worst penmanship. I really should have been a passionate doctor based on my penmanship. Sorry, Mom.
We were so focused on making the most delicious, brilliant things that we had in our heads come to life in a food sense that we had no clue what we were doing otherwise. But that first day, watching people say, “A cookie with chocolate chips and cornflake crunch and gooey marshmallows, I'll take one of those. I'll take a slice of that crazy cake that's not frosted on the sides,” there was something about this leap of faith, this connection of nostalgic formats of cookies, cakes and pies and flavors that people got. And watching the look on people's faces that first day I was like, “We're in.” I didn't have time to worry about what they thought the idea of a pie with nothing in it, but the gooey, buttery, sugary goodness that we call Milk Bar Pie, I didn't have time to worry about whether people would think that was a good idea. There was no time for fear of judgment. I just knew by the spark in people's eyes, that sparkle, that we were onto something.
We were in that first location for about a year. And throughout that year, funny things happened. That was the beautiful beginning. Didn't have time to sleep. Didn't have time to think about how to express who we were and why we did what we did. It just was. It just existed. When customers came in, they dealt with whatever crazy handwriting had written the board for that day, however—
Chris: So that became a thing.
Christina: Yeah. However fast or slow we were at moving through the line or making someone's milkshake or what have you, we started shipping baked goods because that's what Greta would do if someone called and said, “Hey, I want to try this corn cookie, but I'm never going to make it to New York City.” We figured out how to ship, but our sweet little 750-square-foot bakery became a storage facility, a shipping hub, most people's second or third or fourth home. It became a waiting room for the restaurant next door. It took on so many different sizes and shapes because it was just what we had, and we were just in the figuring-it-out phase. I never had to think about, “How do we express to our team who we are and what we believe in? And how do we decide when something goes on the menu or doesn't? How do we decide what the price of this brand-new layer cake should be?” We were food costing things. We weren't thinking about our margins. To your point, we were barely thinking about product-market fit. We were gauging it based on the twinkle in their eye. We didn't even figure out how to slim down the menu and that we were really just making it harder for ourselves within that first year.
Streamlining your operations
But then something happened. I took stock of the business, and I was like, “There's a lot of bottlenecks here.” So when I am checking in with myself and with the business and I see things are getting a little awkwardly sized and shaped, the question that I love to ask is, “What's the bottleneck?” It usually is the sign that something's getting clogged somewhere in the flow of things. And the bottleneck could be everything from hand-scooping cookies and needing to figure out a better way, to mixing the same recipe in the same mixer and needing to scale up, to needing a formula for our team and what we all collectively believe in and how we are going to build this business. But before we even get there, what is this business, and how do we express who we are and what it is that we share in collectively?
That's where I draw a little bit of a line in the Milk Bar history that I call the messy middle. It's the beginning of the messy middle. I say messy because I think you have to make things funny to keep them real. That is true in life. It's definitely true in entrepreneurship. But you have that blissful startup phase, a little bit of a honeymoon period. Again, of course, we romanticize the hard days and the days that you're like, “I got 30 minutes of sleep. I got home just long enough to brush my teeth. You know what I mean? And change my clothes, and then I'm back at it.” But the messy middle is when you say, “OK, I have something.” To your point, I have my product-market fit. My business is a business. I can pay my bills. I'm going somewhere here. I have enough ground under me to not think that I'm just in quicksand or in a marsh.
Creating the right culture for your business
Chris: Yeah. Do you have some time to work on the business, not in it?
Christina: There you go. That, I think, is when the messy middle begins. And I think the messy middle is real, and it's beautiful in all of its ways. But you have to stop and truly take stock of the business. And you have to say, “What is this thing? And what is our intention? What's our mission statement? What do we believe in? What are our core values? How do we think about bringing someone else into our sweet little workforce ecosystem? What do their values need to be? What do we all agree on? And what do we agree to disagree on,” et cetera, et cetera. And I think that is a really important part of taking the next step in building a business because what is the saying? There is no “I” in “team”. My version of it is that no one does it alone. No one does it alone. You can't even think about baking something to feed to someone alone. So first things first is the team. How do you organize yourself? Who is on your team? What do you call your team? What do you all think about these things? And in the early days, in that first year, if you just worked at Milk Bar, you were imprinted. It was impossible. It was infectious in the most beautiful way.
But as we started getting a little bit hardier of a business beneath us, we had to solve more complex problems. And one of the complex problems was this thing of: Who are we? And how do we describe who we are? Because it used to be you're just working the shift next to me. You're going to find out everything you need to know about how we make decisions, X, Y and Z. And I think Talent and Culture, that's what we call our human resources department, is a really important part of whatever it is that your business is because no one does it alone. And you're not going to be able to get anywhere if you don't figure that piece out. And I think the most challenging part of that was I'm an introvert. I'm not great at talking out loud. I'm great at working next to you and being a soldier with you and showing you everything you need to know by spending time with you, by action, by servant leadership. I have to put it all down on a piece of paper. This is not what I signed up for. It's not Italian. It's not baking. And so how do I figure out how to tear open my chest and take what's in my heart and show it to other people to say, “You in? Do you believe in these things too? Are you in?”
Fast forward to today, and we have a mission and values, this sweet little book that I meant to bring to you. But it has everything from our mission statement to our four core values, which are: love it, own it, improve it, inspire it. Those are our four core values because for me, they're not only the things that I think are the most important part of being a member of our team, which we call hardbodies, but I think they describe your journey at Milk Bar, where you come to Milk Bar because there's something about it that you love.
Maybe you love dessert. Maybe you love the idea of working at a bakery. Maybe you like early mornings or late nights. Maybe you like the playlist that we have on. Maybe you just like making people smile. But the “love it” part is that you're in the right place. If you can say, there's something about Milk Bar, this job that I love… if that's not how you feel, I want to hand you a nice, warm cookie and truly wish you luck because we have a ton of friends, and maybe there's something else.
The second one is “own it” because once you have started at Milk Bar, there's a part of it where your first few months are just about our expectation is that you show up excited about where you are. And you're going to learn. You're in the learning phase. So just show up, loving it. But there is a point in your trajectory where there's real ownership. One, because every full-time employee at Milk Bar is an owner of the business. That's an important part of how we show up for our team. But also, you own what you do. Maybe you're training someone else. Maybe there's a part of ownership where you're like, I know my role, I know my expectations, and I really feel good about them. I really feel like I can take some ownership in them. I'm getting my butt kicked a little less, and I'm contributing more than I'm taking from a learning standpoint.
Then there's “improve it”. And for me, that's such a big part — you have to know the business that you are building. If you are someone who works there, you want to know about the business. You want to believe in the business that you're bringing your all to. And I think the owning it part is important, but I think the improving it part for Milk Bar is really important. Milk Bar is built by the people who are a part of it, who work there, who own a piece of it. And if you don't improve it, if I didn't improve it, if the person standing next to me, if Helen Jo didn't improve it or James Mark didn't improve it, we would never be where we are. That one step forward every single day, that “improve it” mindset, is that there's no grownups and suits behind the curtain here doing this. We are the people who do it.
Chris: You're in the foxhole.
Christina: Yeah. So you're not just owning your role, but you're really thinking about how there's no set formula for how to build this business. We're building a business that's never existed before and really calling that out. And then “inspire it” is when it becomes guttural, when it's less intellectual and neurotic and more that you are not just loving it and owning it and improving it, but figuring out how to take it even further from a far less tangible, inspirational, emotional place. And those are really important pieces of the business. I've been training for this moment my whole life saying, “What are the businesses I loved working for, and what are the businesses that I thought had opportunities to keep me as a great person on their team?” And the gap for me was always that I either didn't know where the business was going or what the aspiration was, or I couldn't find my way into it or through it.
Whether someone is with your business for six months or a year or 10 years, those are the things that make all the difference in sharing this vision and this dream together — because if you don't have that, you don't have anything. If people don't feel like they have a voice or they don't understand where they're at in their journey, there's a rudderless-ship moment. And that's the last thing you want someone to feel on your team who is helping you build your business and contributing to it — and probably the last thing you want for someone just on a human level in your life.
Chris: Yeah. That's so good. And I think you came to a moment where you knew you had to be intentional about what you believed and how you think and how you act, and you had to define that. What was the thing that was just like, “You know what, it's time; we have to focus on culture?” What was the moment in time or the situation that drove you to get intentional about it?
Christina: There's probably two parts. I think one part was that the food industry is an industry that I think when it's not doing a great job, it's commoditizing its workforce in a way that's just like, “OK, you're hands and feet and eyes and ears sort of thing, get to work,” and the reality was that didn't line up with the spirit of what that cookie has to convey. People probably worked in enough places where they'd think, “Man, I would've totally stayed at the job or that job or that job or that job, and I would've been such a great employee.” Only, you didn't care enough, or didn't feel welcomed into what it is they were building. And I felt that just on my own personal journey as such an opportunity in my industry, or at least in this section of the industry that I was hellbent on building.
And then call it what you will, but I think you can taste it. I truly think you can taste it. Have you ever had a meal cooked by someone who didn't want to be there? It doesn't taste as good as when your grandma's like, “Sit on down, Chris. Let me make the lasagna,” or whatever your meal is. You can truly taste when someone cares about what they're doing and what it conveys, and I think that human spirit element is vital. I suppose the other side of it was that we were in the messy middle, which meant I was trying to unlock or unclog these bottlenecks, identify them and then solve for them. I became the pseudo pastry chef because I'm not a restaurant pastry chef. I'm now this quirky, American-style bakery pastry chef. I went from being the pastry chef and entrepreneur to being the CEO and the business leader. And I was getting pushed and pulled in a bunch of different directions, and I couldn't be the welcome wagon. I literally couldn't be. And you know me. I would defy what can be done.
Chris: There will be brownies.
Christina: But I realized that because of the opportunity and the excitement that we had in building the business, who else's role would it be to do that? There are people coming in, and I know, OK, I've memorized every single person's name. I know something about them, but they're still missing something. And if you don't teach them about why Milk Bar exists and where it came from and why their being here is really important to you, if you don't say it, if you don't state it, if you don't express it, it gets missed. And we were growing. We were literally growing in revenue, but also growing in teammates. We were all doing our part to express it, but I couldn't be there to do it. And it became clear that my job was not supposed to be the one to be there to do it. It was something that we all needed to collectively share.
It was out of opportunity that I felt existed, the need for the spirit of the business and then literally the need for the tactics of the business to exist. And I had to choose a lane. In all of these things, you have to choose, what is your business? What is your product-market fit? Is it proving out? You’ve got to be honest with yourself every step of the way, and I had to choose how it was that I wanted to express what this plate-of-cookies idea was about.
Chris: So the thing that I love about that is this tension. Hearing all of those things, there is a theme of, hey, here are our expectations of you, and also, here are our expectations of us.
Christina: Can I tell you that that makes me so happy?
Chris: Why is that?
Christina: Well, when someone's joined the team, we invite you to... we call it Milk Bar 101, and it's not new hire orientation. I suppose in big business terms, someone from HR would say, “That is new hire orientation,” but we call it Milk Bar 101. And the very first thing that I say in Milk Bar 101 that I make a point to say is, “You're here because it's important to me that we have this time together. It's important to me that you know what I'm about and what Milk Bar's about and where it came from. I want to know what you're about. But more than anything, you being here, you are making a commitment to us. It is a revolving door. It is a two-way street. You are not just making a commitment to us. This is not a take-take environment. It is a give-take. You're making a commitment to us, but I equally believe that we are making a commitment to you. And it's really important that you know that. You're going to be imperfect in your commitment. We're going to be imperfect in our commitment. But if we enter into this knowing that we both believe in this commitment and that each of us is coming into this together, man, that's a pretty cool thing.”
Chris: That's where magic happens.
Christina: That's where magic happens.
Knowing that how you do anything is how you do everything
Chris: That's where magic happens. And the thing that I think is awesome is all of those things, the expectations, what we expect of you and what you can expect of us, it only works if we do it together because that's the together factor that I really liked in your values. And I wonder how much Christina is in Milk Bar and is in the brand or in the values. How much is there?
Christina: We'll have to ask my mom because… when do you really start to become self-aware? I don't think I probably became that self-aware until I was graduating from college and I was like, “Oh, oh, slam. OK, get with it.” I think a lot of the values are the way that I was raised, which would probably tell you that there's a lot of me in it. And if there are things I disagree with, I would say so. It's a big part of who I am, but it's a part of who I am that I share with all of the people that have been a big part of Milk Bar that have taught me because I didn't just come in with all these great ideas, and I didn't just come in with certain things. But I think the thing that was absolutely true about the opening team of Milk Bar of four or five people was that we all shared the same values of how you do anything is how you do everything.
We had a rule that if there was a clog in the customer restroom, we were like, it's a two-person job, even if it's a one-person job because even the dirt — again, you’ve got to make things funny to keep them real. But how you do anything is how you do everything, how you mop the floor because you don't have the resources. You're doing all the jobs. How you wash the dishes is also the level of technique that you put into making a gorgeous layer cake or that you roll a cake truffle, et cetera, et cetera. How creative you are in the kitchen is how creative you are at solving your least glamorous business problem. But I think that for any entrepreneur, their business is absolutely an extension of who they are with the asterisk that you have to share your business and your values and where you're going with the people who are part of it.
Every person who’s a part of your business is a part of your mission and values, is a part of making your dream come true, but your dream becomes a shared dream. So I think it's absolutely a reflection of me as a person, but I think it's also in a beautiful way — I tell the team, “The fingerprints on our current menu or on our best seller here, this or that, they can trace back to any single person that has ever been a member of our team.” And I think that is a source of pride and a rite of passage in equal parts.
Learning how to bend the rules
Chris: That's amazing. It's amazing that you've unlocked something really special about culture, and it just seems to be a driver. It's strange to go to the people side, but this begs the question of a startup, where you're the entrepreneur doing everything. It's all about the product and the customer, and then it's about the business, the culture, the product and the customer. And then it's about this. And now you're CEO, and that's a different job. And you mentioned that earlier. So who’s the CEO in you, not necessarily just the entrepreneur or just the baker in you? What is Milk Bar's story by the numbers?
Christina: Yeah. That's a good question. OK. November 15th, 2008, opening day. January, February 2009, we started shipping because I hated the idea of saying no to someone who couldn't come to the bakery in person. Let's see. In June 2010, we opened Milk Bar number two. In September 2010, we got a bigger kitchen. Then it really started taking off.
But we now have 12 Milk Bars across the country — New York, Boston, Washington, DC, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Vancouver. That number has ebbed and flowed because of COVID-19. We got smarter about how we thought about operating our business. Let's see. In June 2020, we launched into the aisles of the grocery store, which for me was the most crazy, epic homecoming for me. The grocery store is like, that's where Greta and I went every week to go grocery shopping. Where do we get our ingredients to bake? That's where so much of my creative inspiration comes from because it's the food that we all eat together. It's how our flavor memories are first formed. We ship all across the country now. We even ship internationally. I think we're in 8,000 grocery store doors now, which is crazy. So we have 12 of our own and 8,000 others.
We called our care package business DTC (direct-to-consumer) before DTC was hot. That's what Greta would call it. It is a care package. I don't know how many unique addresses we have. I think we have over 1 million social media followers, which is crazy because I was like, “Social media, what's that?” But I think in a beautiful way, you have to measure yourself by the numbers. One, to your point, as a CEO, you literally have to measure yourself by the numbers to be able to deliver on the promises that you're making to your team. But also, in a beautiful way, I try not to measure too much by the numbers, because I think numbers sometimes have an emotion to them, whether it's my year-over-year growth and how does that comp to last year to, I don't know, how many bakeries is the right number of bakeries or how many products in the grocery store are the right number? That's when you start to get into a little bit of chasing your reality against someone else's perceived measurement.
I suppose profitability matters. How many people are on our team? Is that the right number? Is that the wrong number? At least in CEO land, I try to walk into the door of CEO land, use those numbers because insights are really helpful, especially as you're growing through the messy middle. But I try to not let those be the only way that I think about the business, measure the business or talk about the business. And that's a lesson I've learned, I'd say, over the last two years or so. It's easy to get caught up in being either the title at the top or playing the role of the title at the top. It's really easy to get caught up in what the rules would tell you a CEO does. And I keep going back to these learnings that, again, I know the learnings about them from the last 14 years, but it's always funny to me how much I get caught up breaking my own rules, being inflexible in the mindset or saying, “This is what a CEO does, so this is what you have to do,” as opposed to, "This is what a CEO does. It's really what you have to do, as opposed to this is what a CEO does. It's really important what those things are and how to do them, and that you have confidence in them.
And you are also the CEO, so you get to choose what that flexibility of mind is, or which rules to follow and which rules to break. Which rules should apply to you, not in kicking and screaming, throwing a temper tantrum, but which ones serve you, and your team, and the business and which ones don't. And sometimes the answer is not clear, and it's 10% this today and 50% that tomorrow. And I think that's the most fun part. That's when I know I'm having a really good time at work when I can look at any part of the business, whether I have my apron on or whether I'm sitting in front of a spreadsheet and say like, “Am I having fun today?” And my answer is usually, yes. And the yes is always tethered to, because I'm breaking some sort of rule or defying some version of conventional wisdom.
Chris: I love that. I mean, rules are made to be bent, I guess. They don't always have to be broken.
Christina: I like that.
Chris: I think it's really interesting. You have a business that thrives on connection. And so as a CEO leading the business, it's probably really difficult and probably takes a little bit of a different tone or an approach to stay connected to the business.
Christina: That's right.
Chris: And your business is based on really meaningful connections.
Christina: That's right. And this goes back to a check-in. When I am over-indexing on treating the business too much like a traditional CEO business, I kind of get sick of myself. I'm like, “Ugh, you again?”
Chris: Yeah. You're like, “This isn't me. This isn't me.”
Christina: Yeah. And so I think finding that sense of adventure and play and care — all for the sake of connection, I'm learning it’s my counterbalance. It’s the fulcrum of my teeter-totter. It's true for me. It might not be true for other people, or it might absolutely be true for other people, but I think understanding those tension points is really important.
Adopting a “just bake the cake” mindset
Chris: Yeah. You're spot on and it shows. One of the things that is really awesome about a big part of your story is you've got a lot of lessons threaded throughout the decisions you make, and the choices that you make. And I'm going to say two phrases. And these are likely phrases that you use, and I just want you to opine or talk about where they came from and what they mean to you. So the first one is, “quit waiting for the big moment”.
Christina: Quit waiting for the big moments. So my colloquialism is actually “just bake the cake” because everyone needs a cheesy pun in their life. But it's the “just start” mentality. What are you waiting for? If you're caught in decision fatigue, tell that part of your brain to just go take a break. And literally, just bake the cake. From a bakers' standpoint, we're taught that cake shows up for birthdays or the really big celebrations, but I dare to disagree. I built an entire business on the concept that every day is a perfectly good excuse to find a moment to celebrate. And the way to apply that to life on a bigger, larger level is literally just big. What are you waiting for? Are you waiting for that big moment? Are you waiting for that big milestone, that big aha? That's not how life works.
Literally, it is about the hustle. It's about the grind. It's about putting your head down, following that passion, that heartbeat, that instinct in you, and just getting one thing done. Do one thing better today than you did yesterday. Take one step. Take the step. Make it a little bit further, defy what you can accomplish in a day by just moving that goalpost just a little bit or a big bit. But it's never going to be perfect. The time is never going to be right. You're never going to be ready and love that you know that. That is the brilliance of humanity. Just bake the cake.
Realizing your true impact
Chris: Well said. All right. The second one is, “desserts can save the world”.
Christina: This is very... OK. So I wrote a book not too long ago, that's part memoir, part my approach to life. Why I do what I do. Why I think the world is the way that it is from my purview and what I think we need more of in the world. And dessert is a metaphor here, as in dessert can save the world, but dessert is very much in Greta-land. Can you imagine what our communities would look like, what our teams would look like, what the people we interact with would be like? Literally, as we're sitting at a stoplight, if you just adopted a little bit of the Greta. If you had five plates of brownies or five little Ziploc baggies, and you just gave one out to five different people in a day to make them feel seen. One, it would slow down your life and you'd be a little bit more intentional.
And two, the way that dessert does this thing, dessert is an opt-in course. It's not breakfast, it's not lunch. It can be any of those things, if you ask me. But dessert is not one of those meals, it's definitely not part of the FDA food pyramid, at least the last that I checked. And so dessert has this power to hold this thing that goes far beyond the birthday. It goes far beyond the graduation or the baby shower, those big milestones. And it's this thing that we let into our lives. And we welcome it in when no one's looking in the form of something that I call a dirty dessert secret. It's like the dessert you make that you don't tell anyone you make. When you're having a good day or a bad day, you just want the world to just melt away and disappear.
And dessert is the thing we use to say, “I'm sorry. I'm sorry for your loss. I see you. I'm here for you. I'm thinking of you from the other side of the country. It's Tuesday, so let's just open a bag of Sugar Babies.” Dessert has this powerful, magical thing, and it's sitting right in front of us. Literally, it can come out of our cupboards at a moment's notice. It's around the corner at your local bakery. It'll show up at your doorstep. You can buy it in the aisles of the grocery store. And I think we just need a lot more of that intentionality and that spirit, but in this really sweet way. Dessert can perform miracles, if we let the spirit of dessert... I have a sweet tooth, so the physicality of dessert does a lot for me as well. But it's a really powerful thing.
And I think that's a really fun part about building business too. The thing that you do may not be saving lives, but it does something that makes lives better. And I think that's a really important part of finding the core of what you do and why you do it. Whether it's in how you organize and inspire your team, or how you keep yourself and your imagination well fed as an entrepreneur and a leader. But I would venture to think that anyone who’s on their entrepreneurial journey, there's something about what they do that makes the world better, makes people's lives better. For me, dessert can save the world.
Chris: Man, I love that a lot. And here's the wild part. We started with your first sweets memory. And I'm going to play back to you what I think I've heard and how that is such an accurate representation of what you're doing in the world. So you're a little girl, you're in the backseat, and you're in your mom's everyday car. And your mom decided to pause life, pull over, and share a moment with the people who were around her, who she was entrusted with, who she loved. And she took something that was maybe unfamiliar, but was her special thing. And she knew that if she just paused life, and she shared that with you all... she maybe didn't know that it was going to make a memory, but it really changed the way you look at the world. And I think that that is one of the things that is really beautiful about your story, and about what you're doing, and why it means so much to you, and why it means so much to your team.
What it means to the community that you're building is that family matters, but who we're around and who we decide to share with really, really matters. I love that you are creating things that create a connection, that allow people to share what they love, and to share what they care about and to share it with the people they love. And I do think desserts can save the world. Absolutely. I think it's a wonderful memory and a great capstone to what you're doing and why it drives you, even though you're like, “Why do I remember that?”
Chris: Why is that the thing that I remember? I think if you were to really reflect on that, it is a real life moment that embodies your purpose. You know what I mean? And I think every entrepreneur should have an understanding of what is the thing that drives me? And what is that real life moment that embodies my purpose, and why I exist, and why I'm doing what I'm doing? And I have to say, hearing you unpack this whole story and to hear that, there's some vivid imagery when we're talking about things that are really special about your life.
And in my mind, I just want to say thank you for telling us the story, for sharing the story with us, for coming all the way out here to unpack it. And to be vulnerable and to give everybody the insights on, “I got a good swift kick in the pants about, I need to check in on myself. I need to think about these things….” So I just want to say thank you for coming and for spending time with us.
Christina: Thank you.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah.
Christina: I had a blast.
Chris: You did?
Christina: It's a little bit like a therapy session.
Chris: Is it?
Christina: Well, you know what it's like as an entrepreneur, you don't ever give yourself the time to really slow down. I have the check-ins, but the check-ins, they're random. I'm definitely going to have a check-in on the airplane. You know what I mean, “Ooh, that was good. That was really good.”
Any opportunity to think about these things and to force yourself to express them again. And this is never what I thought I would be doing for a living. And I think that's both thrilling and keeps me on my toes and keeps me uncomfortable and sort of like I’ve got to figure out how to say it out loud, girlfriend, because there's about to be a microphone in front of you. That's the brilliance of it. Anyone who gives the like, “No, I know what I'm doing.” You know what I mean? Uh-huh. You want the people who are going to give it to you and be like, “Oh, I only know what I know.”
Chris: Yeah. And there's only me.
Christina: I've only ever known what I know. That's it. And everything else, there's either a little breadcrumb of trails from the past to the present, or I'll learn it tomorrow. I'll learn it tomorrow. Here we go.
Chris: That's so good. Well, I have 10 rapid-fire questions.
Christina: OK. I'm ready.
Chris: And I want to ask them to you and see what fun things we can discover about Christina Tosi. So, all right. First one, best reggae song to blast in the kitchen?
Christina: Oh, I really love reggae in the kitchen. I think “No, No, No.” You'll know it when it comes on.
Christina: It's an old school reggae dancehall song that's been redone many times.
Chris: Well, maybe we'll close the session with that. I love it.
Christina: I can hear it. I'm already bouncing to it.
Chris: Well, it's on the music theme. Are your baking playlist and your running playlist the same, or are they different?
Christina: Sometimes they're the same.
Christina: Yeah. My older sister, who I ran a half marathon with recently, looked at me like I was a complete lunatic because I listen to Bob Dylan or Neil Young on a long run. I'll listen to reggae on a long run. She wants a heavy pace. And I'm just chilling out over here, checking in with myself, running.
Chris: You're like, I'm thinking. I'm thinking.
Christina: Just running. I mean, it's all a marathon.
Chris: Yeah. That's good. All right. What are your three favorite breakfast cereals?
Christina: You're really unlocking something special right now because I am in a place in my life right now, where I don't ever have one type of cereal in my bowl at once. Have you ever tried double or triple stacking flavors of cereal in your bowl?
Chris: I have not.
Christina: It does a lot of really good things.
Chris: All right. So what's the recipe right now?
Christina: OK, so right now my triple stack is Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey Nut Cheerios, because I have a 20-month-old and that cereal's always lying around, and somehow it feels virtuous. And then Honey Bunches of Oats, those three make the triple stack. My husband will do Raisin Bran Crunch. And then two of those three.
Chris: That is amazing. Those are two of my favorite cereals: Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Honey Bunches of Oats. You know what I mean? Those are so good.
Christina: Wait, what would be your double stack?
Chris: I don't know. I’ve got to try this. This will be a social media post for sure.
Christina: The cereal milk that it makes when you double or triple. And then the other thing that I've been doing is I pour a whole lot of milk in there because I just love the slurping of the milk. But then you still have half a bowl of milk when you're done, so you can go and either stack more, or I'll go and be like, “I'm just going to have some Cinnamon Toast Crunch now.” But in the cereal milk that came from the triple stack… I could go on, but I'll stop.
Chris: You made a bunch of desserts.
Christina: I told you not to ask me food questions because I'll just sit here going on.
Chris: It's effervescence. It just kind of comes out. Well, what's your favorite non-sweet food then?
Christina: Ooh, it depends on my mood.
Christina: Cheeseburger. Like a nice, caramelized patty Maillard reaction sort of thing. All the fixings up. Oh, cheese pizza. Chicken wings. I eat savory food like I'm a 12-year-old child. But I love to eat out. I will try anything and eat anything, but those are the things that I typically go back to.
Chris: Those are the go-tos.
Christina: My family's go-to is something called corn bake, which is a mix between a corn pudding and a cornbread. That's almost always in the fridge.
Christina: Yeah. Anything cheesy or corny? I mean Midwest, right?
Christina: Cheesy, corny, beefy.
Chris: This is right in Ohio.
Christina: You asked. This was your question.
Chris: Hey, these are my questions. Who does most of the cooking?
Christina: I do.
Chris: You do?
Christina: I do. My husband's in the business. He'll be like my creative director where he'll be like, “I'm feeling like an Italian night. I'm feeling like having a steakhouse night.”
Chris: So he places orders.
Christina: Cocktail, red wine. But I like that because in my mind I'm like, “I'm going to bring anything to life.” I like a point of inspiration. Whether you're building a business, whether it's time spent in the kitchen to bring something to life at Milk Bar, you need a point of inspiration. If you don't have a point of inspiration, you're just rudderless.
Chris: Oh, my goodness.
Christina: When you can create anything, you can create anything. You need focus.
Chris: You need focus. This is where the clutter came from. So when was a time that you were experimenting in the kitchen and it did not go well?
Christina: A lot of those. Let's narrow it down. Otherwise, you're going to get a whole—
Chris: What was no good? Please, tell me there was nitrogen involved.
Christina: This is probably 10 years old, but it still haunts me to this day because I was like, “This should be good.” We were doing a line for Halloween of soft-serve flavors that were different Halloween candies. And it's still to this day, like gummy bear soft serve should be delicious.
Chris: It should.
Christina: It's absolutely not. It's not even close. Sour Patch Kids is delicious. A lot of other things. Atomic Fireball soft serve, delicious. Gummy bear soft serve — that’s not delicious. I also tried to make a stuffing flavored soft serve once. Thanksgiving-themed soft serves. Right?
Chris: I love it.
Christina: Sweet potato pie. You can come up with really great stuffing flavored soft serve. It's like seasoned bread crumbs sort of. Maybe it wasn't bad, it was weird. I think sometimes the difference between a good idea and something that makes it to the menu is an American cheese cheesecake on a Ritz cracker crust with the green tomato sorbet. I thought it was delicious. But you need an editing panel to tell you whether or not the dessert is going to make the connection. It might make the connection for you, but if you're here to serve others and make that community connection at Milk Bar, certain things don't make it onto the menu.
Chris: You're like, “We do some receptivity testing to make sure people like it.”
Christina: It turns out me and two people think American cheese cheesecake is a good idea.
Chris: Those two people. OK. Got it. What successful dessert surprised you the most in your business?
Christina: God, that's such a great question. I think it's the birthday cake. And I'll tell you why.
Chris: It's got a lot of attention.
Christina: It surprised me the most. So think about the fact that it's been on the menu for 14 years. We got people to trust the fact that the cakes are unfrosted on the sides. And that's OK because it's an invitation to eat. But my mom was a working mom. She would always make the box Funfetti cake mix, the Pillsbury Funfetti cake mix and the tub of frosting. And I always thought that was a little bit of my dirty dessert secret thing. It was what showed up for my birthday every year. But I didn't think it was a thing that other people would find their truth in.
We spent two years figuring out how to deconstruct it and how to figure out how to make it from scratch. But the power of this grocery store memory, this Pillsbury grocery store memory, and what it does for people. Again, it is the honor of a lifetime when people are like, “That's my cake.” But even more so, it's not just that it's their cake because it's received attention, it's their cake because they're like, “My mom used to make that for my birthday too.” When you talk about what dessert has surprised me in its power to move people, and connect people, and make them feel seen—
Chris: It's the birthday cake.
Christina: Don't forsake the birthday cake.
Chris: Wow. What a quote. Well, what do you do in your downtime?
Christina: Ooh. Walk, run. I like to go on an adventure. The adventure could be anything, could be a food adventure, it can be a physical adventure. It could be an intellectual adventure. You could even tell me that I'm going to sit in a six-hour delay at the airport and I'd be like, “OK.” I'm confident I'll learn. I'll learn. I'll find crazy stuff to do. Really anything that's an adventure mostly because it pushes me out of my comfort zone. And I think that's not only where growth happens, as we all know, but I think that's where I lose myself and find myself. And I'm my best self when I can lose myself to find myself.
Chris: Wow. I love the “best self" there. That's super good. It seems like your best self is often in Chuck Taylors.
Christina: Almost always. High tops.
Chris: So what's your favorite pair of other shoes?
Christina: Ooh. I've been rocking a pair of Birkenstocks lately, but I think it's because when I was a teenager, my mother—
Chris: They are too expensive.
Christina: They are way too expensive. We would cut our Converse into sandals once your feet got too big. Or you know what, we've been in a Converse family our whole life, but you can cut the rubber toe out and keep the laces. That was like our sandal cushion.
Christina: But now I can afford my pair of Birkenstocks, also, they can be indoor shoes and outdoor shoes. And I guess when you live the high top life for so long, the idea that you don't have to lace up a pair of shoes. It'd probably be a pair of Velcro shoes, if I'm being honest. That's my old lady coming out a little hard.
Chris: Yeah, there's a theme.
Christina: So maybe if Birkenstock made or Converse made a Velcro version, I'd 100% be their spokesperson.
Chris: Yeah, you heard it here.
Christina: They're like, that's never going to happen. That's a terrible idea.
Chris: I will say, the sneakerhead in me, it's the same thing why I have too many pairs of Jordans. I would never get a pair of Jordans when I was a kid. And you, with the Birkenstocks. I know the feeling well.
Christina: It's a simple thing.
Chris: What would surprise people about Christina Tosi?
Christina: I'm terrified of the dark. I'm maybe beyond terrified of the dark. I'm a huge scaredy cat, huge.
Chris: Scaredy cat.
Christina: I have an 80-pound dog named Butter who my husband and I, if we're not together, we'll little literally argue over who gets to have Butter with them. And I always pull the card of saying things like, “But I won't sleep at night. I'll be scared.”
Chris: I love your trump card here. You're like, “This is my thing. I have a giant dog that will protect me.”
Christina: By the way, she's not protecting anyone. I came home once at 2 o'clock in the morning from a work trip. That dog was passed out, snoring, fast asleep. I literally had to wake her up to be like, “Butter, I'm home. Don't freak out.”
Chris: It's OK.
Christina: And she just opened her eyes like...
Chris: She's like, “I knew it was you. I knew it was you.” But it's the association of protection and security.
Christina: That's it.
Chris: OK. That's really good. Which entrepreneur really inspires you?
Christina: I think the entrepreneurs who really inspire me are the entrepreneurs who are listening to this podcast. It's the people who are in it and are trying to figure it out. I think that there is nothing more inspiring than that. It's not actually the ones we know as the successful entrepreneurs. I think they're incredible, but I place so much value in the people who are doing the work right this second. I think that there is nothing more inspiring or more motivating. And that makes me feel like I'm not alone in the world. That's far more powerful to me than anything else. Mad respect to everyone who’s done it and really crushed it. It's the people who aren't seen that are in there doing the work.
Chris: I love that. I think that's a really good answer. And it's a really special one. And I don't have any more rapid-fire questions, but I just want to say thank you for sharing with us. Thanks for coming to the studio. And what a special time it was with you and hope to do it again.
Christina: This cake truffle's going to save your Monday, Chris, I tell you what.
Chris: Totally trying it. That's where we're going next. Thanks for coming.