We had the good fortune of connecting with Charlette Bell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Charlette, what do you want people to remember about you?
Prior to launching my business, I went through a purpose defining process of determining why I was drawn to baking and why I wanted to launch a macaron specialty company. In this process I realized that I loved baking because the results contributed to the favorite part of a meal…dessert or simply brought people together even if it was just dessert! Dessert was the special part of family dinner in my home and during my childhood, my Grandmother always made delicious desserts to top it all off. The tagline for Lady Belle is “French Flair Southern Flavor” because the core flavor profiles of my macarons include southern favorites like Sweet Potato Pie, Peach Cobbler, Banana Pudding, Red Velvet. These flavors honor the legacy of my Grandmother. Initially I was intrigued by the challenge of macarons, but soon understood the history and high regard of macarons as a European pastry. What an awesome premise to combine my heritage with a pastry, many don’t realize, that has such a vast history. I want my legacy to be one that’s not just about having a successful macaron company, but rather an internationally known macaron specialty shop, valuable to my local community with a message of cultural unity.
Please tell us more about your business. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today business-wise. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
Lady Belle Macarons is a handcrafted, gourmet macaron specialty shop. Prior to opening Lady Belle, I started a few previous companies that highlighted homemade cakes, pies, cookies or cinnamon rolls. My Grandmother influenced my repertoire of cakes and pies and it always made me feel closer to home even after I moved from Columbus, Ga. to Atlanta when I made one of her specialties. It made me feel even better when she turned all the family baking over to me and it was my duty and honor to make any holiday desserts.
What sets my company apart from other macaron shops is the fact that I’ve taken soul food dessert flavors and embedded them in the flavors of my Parisian Macarons. Lady Belle takes southern dessert classics and elevate them to an upscale delicacy.
As my intrigue into macaron history grew, so did my interest in recreating macarons of French regions beyond Paris. Most people are only familiar with the macarons of Paris (Parisian) with a meringue-based cookie shells and a filling. However, macarons got their start as early as the 15th century and migrated from Italy when Catherine Medici brought her pastry chef with her once she married into the French Monarchy. Besides Lady Belle’s unique, southern flavor approach to our Parisian macarons, we’ve also set ourselves apart by creating our own Belle Macarons we’ve trademarked as Belle Bites Macarons. Inspired by old-fashioned macaron techniques from various regions of France, we’re the first macaron shop in the U.S. to create an original macaron and introduce it on internationally known Food Network.
I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve stepped out on the belief in a brand and a product line I developed born out of my desire to recreate my Grandmother’s recipes. This is my way of keeping the memory of my loved ones alive and establishing a legacy that would not only make them proud but also extend that legacy to my children and generations to come.
I began working for myself years ago while also working in corporate America. I started my journey with the intent of mastering my Grandmother’s cakes and pies. After being “retired” from a 20-year career in IT Project Management, I decided to pursue an Associates in Baking & Pastry. While in culinary school, I was introduced to macarons. Though we only made macaron shells to garnish another dessert, I was so intrigued by the challenge of macarons, that I taught myself how to make them during a time when they were not as popular as they are now.
After receiving my degree, I went back to corporate. During this time, I decided to create Lady Belle Macarons with the premise of incorporating the flavors of my Grandmother’s desserts into my brand of macarons. I launched my online shop in 2015 and managed my business part time until I was laid off after 5 years. and made the important decision, to not go back to corporate. Had I not made the decision to continue on with my business as a full-time entrepreneur, I would not have been in charge of my own schedule and available to participate as a contestant on Food Network’s “Bake You Rich” and win!
Though there have been challenges, as on any path, my path hasn’t been hard. Overall, my journey has been very natural in its progression. The biggest challenge for me, as a creative business owner, is that not only do I need to produce a product but also take care of the business. There’s a thin line of balance between production (of macarons) and dealing with business management, making connections with business partners. More production is key to creating more income to fund additional resource for growth. At some point hiring additional resources is key. Right now, Covid-19 doesn’t make that an easy task, but one that’s still must be me done. Team Lady Belle steps up to the balancing challenges and makes them work. The right resources will present themselves when it’s time for the next growth cycle to start.
Specific to my industry, one of the lessons I learned once I began to look for shared kitchen spaces is to test ALL the ovens BEFORE you sign a lease. Macarons, unlike other baked goods, is extremely sensitive to oven temperament and functionality. It only took one bad experience for me to learn this lesson. This applies to leasing space with equipment or purchasing new baking equipment.
I’ve also learned that crunching numbers in the beginning is essential. Creatives tend to be so excited about implementing an idea or product that knowing the cost of doing business isn’t the top priority. Having a baking business is even more intricate. There are the ingredients, production time, shipping supplies (if you ship) and possibly paying others that go into costs. All these elements determine if you’re making money or just in business. It’s better to confirm cost details sooner than later. Later is a bear…take it from me.
I realized that if I combined the flavors of southern soul food desserts with an internationally recognized pastry, I was capable of bridging a cultural gap in a small but possibly impactful way. There are people who would recognize those southern flavors, but would not know what a macaron is. And, there are people who would know what a macaron is, but would never experience a soul food dessert. I’ve had the benefit of sponsoring events where both ends of this spectrum was present and this opportunity allowed people who would normally not cross paths to have a dialog that would otherwise not take place. Each macaron is special with its own identity in flavor, perhaps color. As uniquely different as one macaron is from the other, when was the last time you opened a box of macarons and caught them fighting? Lady Belle macarons have a purpose and a message. My hope is that our brand contributes positively to the narrative of unity among people.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
If a bestie visited me here, our main concern would be rest and relaxation. Much of our itinerary would be centered around just that. One of my favorite intown getaways is the Georgian Terrace Hotel. It’s a great central location in the midst of downtown with great spa services with a roof top pool to get some sun and generate some vitamin D. For an amazing spa experience and adventure, we’d go to Jeju Sauna Spa in Duluth. For good eats and fun, we’d definitely need to hang out at Ponce City Market, make our rounds to The Southern Gentleman or American Cut at Buckhead Shops, Iberian Pig or Café Lily in Downtown Decatur, Barcelona at Westside Ironworks, Anis Café & Bistro and hopefully end up having a very leisurely Sunday brunch for some pancakes or waffles at my house! LOL!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d like to dedicate my Shoutout to Lynne Burns, who was the owner of Medici Macarons in Yorkshire, England. Lynne mentored me “across the pond”. I found Lynne’s work online and reached out to her to remark how much I loved her macaron presentations and inquired if she was open to long distance mentorship. She was open to the suggestion and we met on Sundays for several months. She’d argue that she didn’t contribute much and I’d beg to differ. Her willingness to take me up on an out of the ordinary suggestion, let me know that anything was possible.
Victoria Swilley – Professional Food Shots