20 May Lois Bar & Aida Eats: The Story of Two High School Friends Reconnecting in NYC and Pursuing their Passions
If you’re wandering around the East village and find yourself on Avenue C (aka Loisaida Ave) between 6th and 7th street then pop into the bar called Lois. Upon entering, you will be warmly greeted by two lovely ladies serving wine on tap! The story behind the bar, Lois, is about Nora and Phoebe, two high school friends, reconnecting in NYC and pursuing their passions.
I had a chance to meet Nora and Phoebe at a brunch party a while back when they were just getting their snack business up and running. I was really inspired by their passion and was also swooning over their selection of Aida snacks. If you are not yet familiar with the brand Aida, it is a selection of versatile snacks that are perfect for entertaining or incorporating into recipes. Their current line includes crackers, crisps, nuts and more! Tucked away in sophisticated and modern packaging, Aida snacks can make you look like a goddess host in a pinch.
Read on for a chat I had with Nora and Phoebe about how they met, how they built their business and where they plan to go from here!
Where are you originally from? If not NYC how did you end up there?
Nora (N): We’re actually friends from high school! We met at school outside of Cleveland, Ohio. We fell out of touch through college, but reconnected after moving to New York. Phoebe was working in publishing in DC and moved to NYC to pursue a Masters of Food Studies from NYU and was managing Alphabet City Beer Company. I had moved to NYC and was working in cookbook publishing, but was always obsessed with wine, so I left to work at Brooklyn Winery and get my Sommelier certification. I was looking for a job at a wine store when Phoebe posted on Facebook about a manager opening at Alphabet City Wine Company (affiliated with ABC Beer Co.). I jumped at it and we reconnected as friends and the rest is history.
Were you always in the food industry/did you study it in school or do any formal training?
N: Phoebe had worked in kitchens in Cleveland (and cooked ferociously at home), and was always hoping to get back into food in some way. While she completed her studies she was a manger at ABC Beer Co. as well as Bedford Cheese Shop. My first job out of college was in Tuscany, where I fell in love with food and wine, and specifically wine on tap. I had left “office life” to gain more experience with wine (production, retail, professional). I loved my Som training, but I loved talking to people in the wine store more (i.e I knew restaurants weren’t for me). I had been tracking wine on tap in NYC for years, and in 2014 when Phoebe and I were starting to talk about opening our own place, we were both so excited about wine on tap and accessible, delicious food that it was a no brainer.
What was the scariest/most challenging part about diving into your own business?
N: It is daunting to realize that you are the one making the decisions at the end of the day–you’ve just got to hope they’re the right ones. There’s no boss or manager to defer to.
How did you decide on the location for the bar?
Phoebe (P): Nora and I had been managing two different businesses on Avenue C when a “for rent” sign went up in an unassuming storefront–we jumped at the tiny space. It took a lot of imagination at first to see its potential, but it all came together.
The packaging and design for Aida is absolutely beautiful! How did you come up with the style?
N: We’ve been lucky enough to work with great designers since opening Lois and, as consumers, we know how important it is for something to be as visually pleasing as it is delicious. It was important to us to make that a reality with our designers at Studio XXIX.
What inspires the recipes behind each product? Is there a lot of testing that goes into it?
P: I get inspiration from everything–trying new things and rediscovering old. The menu at Lois is always evolving, but we took some of our (and our customers’) favorite parts of Lois to develop Aida recipes. Sometimes the process for testing a recipe can be pretty quick and things just click immediately. Other times there’s a ton of tweaks and it can take a lot of time.
How long did it take from concept to launch for Aida?
N: We came up with the idea in October, tested and gathered feedback in November and December, then launched in April of 2017, so it was about 6 months.
Where can we find Aida snacks today?
P: We’re available online–we ship anywhere, but we’re also in stores in 13 states including Eataly, Wholefoods, and Fairway.
Do you have a favorite recipe that incorporates Aida products?
N: The best part about Aida is that it isn’t just for your cheeseboard. We have a lot of recipes on our blog that show all the ways to use the products. I’m obsessed with the Sourdough Cracker Chicken Tenders.
P: I loved developing the recipe for the lime cheesecake with currant crisp crust–mostly because it is so delicious.
What’s next on the horizon for the two of you?
P: We’re excited to expand Aida nationally with current and future partners. We want the products to be the go-tos in every pantry.
Do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in diving into a food business of his or her own?
N: Talk to anyone and everyone you can. Do your research, know your market, and just pull the trigger.
P: Get work experience. The food biz isn’t for everyone and cutting your teeth in a fast-paced environment is the best way to learn.
Thanks so much to Nora and Phoebe for sharing their experiences! If you haven’t yet tried Aida snacks then you can find them here. I suggest you start with the currant turmeric crisps and the Szechuan candied pecans. Those are my favorites right now!