By Kristin L. Wolfe
Photos By Lisa Nichols
At time of print, Brittany Zavala-Quinones of Britt & Co. Bagels has single handedly made over 80,000 bagels since the pandemic began. With her body and skincare business on pause and a need to be productive and helpful, she could not just sit back. It was time to bring her lifelong dream of working in food to the forefront. And fast. It was her twelve year old son who reminded her that her bagels were particularly special and could be just the right place to start. She dove into mounds of flour, perfected her recipe, and began feeding the frontlines. The best part? Not only did she dig deep in order to pivot and survive, the bagels are tremendous. Sundays were about bagels when I grew up. So, for me, these not only garner a sense of nostalgia, but there’s texture with a great chew and flavor without that weight in your tummy many give. You may be exhausted after learning how much this bright young woman does, but you will no doubt be inspired too.
Femfluent: What inspired you to go into business?
Britt: I was always driven I believe since I was very young to have my own business. I was born into a family with a family business. My grandfather on my mother’s side was the ultimate entrepreneur. He had only the education of a third grader having to leave school to work to help his family yet grew up to be an incredibly successful, owning real estate, restaurants, jewelry stores and most notably, furniture stores. My grandmother not only built those businesses with him, but continued to run them decades after his passing. She is probably my greatest influence. She’s not someone who is taken care of, she’s the one who takes care of everything. As a child I remember doing inventory with her and filling out mailers my grandmother referred to as ‘propaganda’; and, I learned math through the accounting of balancing books. My grandmother has provided for her entire family to this day, even though she closed her business in 2002. Operating a business was just my way of life. But starting my own, I believe at the root of all endeavors and inspiration lies necessity. Coming from a family with money did not mean I in anyway benefited from it. I was on my own from a very young age. My first business S.I.M.D Inc. and Gen Z Media, a small independent graphics and marketing firm was built and born out of the need to support myself and pay for school.
Femfluent: Tell us about the business you had to pause during the pandemic. Where did the idea for that come from?
Britt: The Skin Source was inspired by the opportunity to establish a laser aesthetic practice performed by trained, licensed, educated treatment specialists and rooted in ethics, science and results, not about meeting a bottom line. I found there was not a true understanding of the field or the detrimental repercussions that ignorance would have. Other practices cut corners by hiring unqualified, uneducated and inadequately trained individuals to be able to pay less hourly, and outsourced knock off equipment that yielded little to no results and wasted consumers time and money. The focus was not on the actual service and meeting the clients satisfaction and needs but was instead meeting monthly revenue quotas. Because of this there was a negative stigma associated with laser and a severe gap in knowledge and understanding by the consumer, I wanted to bridge that gap. As a single mom at the time I started Skin Source, that fact added to my motivation with a need to provide for and be there for my son.
Femfluent: And Britt & Co.?
Britt: Britt & Co. Bagels began with the intention to do something good and meaningful at a time where the meaning of everything was seemingly lost and uncertain; I was driven by passion and necessity. I dreamed of having my own restaurant/food establishment since I can remember. Britt & Co. Bagels was a concept for a cafe/bagel shop that started when I was 15 working at a bagel shop in Larchmont. It became a reality when COVID struck and The Skin Source was forced to close, giving me the time to revisit my passion, and share it as a means to provide love and support to healthcare and frontline workers. I decided to create care packages with handwritten notes of encouragement and thanks. I created bagel making kits as a means to generate some income, and use the bagels I was making for healthcare workers in posts as ideas and inspirations for those who purchased kits. The requests for my handmade bagels from healthcare facilities and the community grew fast and unexpectedly.
Femfluent: What’s the best part about being a business owner? And the worst?
Britt: Having the advantage to be in charge and navigate when, how, and where you want it to go. And, the ability to dictate your own hours to best serve your lifestyle especially when you have a family, is the best. The worst is you can never check out. To a degree, you live in a perpetual fear or sense of instability. You don’t have a set salary or schedule. It is a non stop, 24/7, 365 day a year hustle and grind. It can lead to an intense struggle to be fully present and put everything that needs your attention or follow up, on hold.
Femfluent: What keeps you going on your toughest days?
Britt: My husband, Trevor and my family. And, the never ending desire to always be better, do better, and overcome. There’s also a mental image of little me, full of endless ambition and confidence, reminding me of where I came from. That image reminds me of how far I’ve come.
Femfluent: What’s something you wished you’d known when you started your business?
Britt: I knew what to expect, so there was nothing I wish I had known in my first two businesses, but with Britt & Co. Bagels, I wish I knew how insane the demand would become. I wish I was prepared or had the ability to brace myself, but then again maybe not knowing was for the best.
Femfluent: What advice would you give to other women who want to start their own businesses?
Britt: Gumption. Have gumption. Desire and the willingness to try is all the permission and affirmation you need. Understand if you truly want to succeed you will try and fail and have to fail and still try again. Starting your own business is, like true love, unconditional.
Femfluent: What about your business are you most proud of?
Britt: I am proud of starting and building them from the ground up with my own two hands. As for a Britt & Co. I am most proud of the positive impact that it has made not only for healthcare workers and first responders but my community. So many have given endless thanks for the comfort and joy it brought them during the darkest and most uncertain times of quarantine. That was unexpected, and having that connection with every single person, especially since I single handedly made every single order, wrote every single note, and tied every box. That is what I am and will always be most proud of and grateful for.
Femfluent: How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
Britt: It’s not easy and doesn’t always have the most positive impact. My family puts up with a lot and it can be quite a catch 22. I am an incredibly passionate person and driven by integrity in every facet of my life, especially my business. Not only for my business to be successful for their ultimate well being and benefit, but I of course want my family to be proud of everything I do. I believe true success is rooted in love and integrity, and it drives a degree of passion, perfectionism, and ambition that can become overwhelming. It can hinder my ability to always be present, or mentally or emotionally available. It’s something I struggle with and try to work on daily. Which is where the catch 22 lies: my ambition to give them the best can at times bring out my worst.
Femfluent: What is your greatest fear and how do you manage it?
Britt: My greatest fear is not always executing to the best of my ability. I manage it by facing it head on and being fully transparent. You cannot dwell in fear, it’s self-defeating and perpetuating. There is always a solution, which you find when you stop focusing on fear. Fear is generally my catalyst to a solution and innovation.
Femfluent: Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Britt: Gumption, Humility and Ego. The Gumption to start and see it through; the humility to do the grunt work and make the sacrifices necessary; and, the ego to be the best, and have the audacity to do it all and not give a flying–fill in your choice of expletive–what anybody else has to say or think about it otherwise in the first place.
Femfluent: What has been your most satisfying moment with Britt & Co.?
Britt: The bagels I made and delivered for a nurse to her husband as a surprise “Thank You” for his sacrifice to leave work and care for their children while she sacrificed her time and her life to help battle Covid. Or, the ones made and delivered to grandparents from loved ones they couldn’t see, but wanted them to know they were loved, thought of and cared for. The ones made and delivered to the doctors and nurses who couldn’t stay home safe pictured in posts with their faces imprinted by masks and laden with expressions of seeming defeat. I saw them later in posts with ear to ear smiles holding a Britt & Co. bagel I had made just hours before for them. Reading or hearing how much it brightened and made their day was priceless. And, the proceeds from those and other orders enabled us to purchase 2,000 N95 masks to be donated to them.
Britt & Co Bagels
Learn more at brittandcobagels.com