In 10 years, Christina Tosi has grown Milk Bar from a single New York bakery to a national dessert empire—without losing touch with the customers (and employees) she loves.
No one has ever called Christina Tosi a culinary snob. After all, the chef and founder of Milk Bar has created a sweet-treat kingdom built on American nostalgia. Her aversion to elitism inspired her comforting but inventive cookies, cakes, and soft-serve (Cereal Milk ice cream is a winning example), all of which are a national fascination. It’s led to 14 stores, partnerships with Target and JetBlue, and celebrity status for Tosi, who has served as a judge on MasterChef and penned two cookbooks. (Her third, All About Cake, is out this month.) Now, after a decade in business and a recent fundraise, she wants to expand to grocery stores, customers’ doorsteps, and more. We talked with Tosi about creating your own comfort in business, taking care of the people around you, and why the perfect dessert can take years to get right.
Your company is built on nostalgic flavors from many Americans’ childhoods, but it also feels unique and modern. How did you find that niche?
I spent 10 years in other people’s kitchens, making their recipes. That’s the reality of when you’re first starting out. When it came time for me to consider my own voice in food—when I was no longer learning technique—I’d ask anyone and everyone, “What’s your favorite dessert?” Even in these communities of cooks with decades of experience and education and access to the most insane kitchens, they’d say, “My grandma’s chocolate chip cookie,” or “McDonald’s fried apple pie.” It helped me understand what people really want. But I would never dare try to compete with, say, my grandma’s oatmeal cookie— she made the best. I realized that my place in the world wasn’t to compete with these memories but to breathe new life into them.
Now you’re 10 years in, and everyone wants a piece of the pie, so to speak. How do you decide which opportunities to pursue, keeping that spirit in mind?
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