cbuzz: Michelle Allen, MMELO Boutique Confections: Food Science Becoming a Culinary Passion & Having an Entrepreneurial Spirit

July 1st, 2024

Michelle Allen, owner of confectionery cafe MMELO Boutique Confections – We’re in the process of setting up our consumer-packaged goods division and developing a warehouse space to support that. A Columbus native, Allen went to OSU before heading to New York to work as a producer for 14 years. There, girl would meet boy, fall in love, and move to Spain. During the couple’s 13 years in Spain, Allen started and sold a natural hair care products company and became a mother. While her son was in nursery school, she started studying food science and recipe design…  her self-described “child’s palate” inspired her to start a modern confectionery brand.

For Michelle Allen, life is like a box of chocolates. Literally.

Allen wears many hats every day: wife, mother, business owner, food designer and confectioner. But when you factor in her smarts, talent, and determination, you immediately discover the recipe for her success.

The owner of Mmelo, A confectionery food producer that specializes in all-natural, high-end pastries and sweet treats for the retail, wholesale, and corporate space. My mother used to tell me I was extraordinarily lucky just to be born and doubly lucky on a planet this spectacular! Go roll around it she would say…. That really has been the guiding principle of my life. Life too short not to take advantage of the opportunities and experiences life offers, and that’s exactly what she’s doing, despite operating a small, independent business during the worst pandemic in a century.

Food science becomes culinary passion

A former film production company executive, Allen and her British director husband moved to Barcelona, Spain, after 9/11. She started studying food science and says two things spurred her interest in creating all-natural treats: her own predilection for sweets, and her son’s autism, which drove her to investigate how diet and health interact.

“I learned the structures of sugars and chocolates and ended up building my brand around what I learned,” she says. “I knew there were dyes and things in food that didn’t necessarily need to be there. My son is autistic and ADHD, so we were conscious of his diet. I started working with natural ingredients and with the science, and started making treats he could have. My company was born out of that.”

By 2015, Michelle and her family returned to the States, settling in Columbus, Ohio, her hometown. She created Mmelo as a pop-up, despite never running a food business before. She made a lot of “epic” mistakes and called the venture a massive learning curve.

“That’s the entrepreneurial path,” she says. “When you create something that didn’t exist before, you know you’re going to make mistakes. The trick is to figure out how to navigate through it and grow.”

The power of the popup!

And grow she did—eventually opening two brick-and-mortar locations, plus a commercial kitchen and retail arm and ultimately changing the business model to facilitate and grow her brand. But, she’s still a firm believer in the power of the pop-up, especially where up-and-coming women entrepreneurs are concerned.

“It’s a fairly low-cost way to get your product in front of customers, and learn what they do and don’t respond to,” she says. At our core, the ‘subtext” of Mmelo is building wonder and community around food. I’m always thinking about how to bring products to consumers that showcase the spectacular promise of the resources available to us. The sublime pleasure of passion fruit and dark chocolate for example! A pop-up is a great opportunity for you to talk to people about the experience of your product, your process and your goals.  And without making a massive capital investment – risky at the very best of times!. You can see if they’ll invest in your idea; there’s nothing else influencing them—it’s just you in front of them, with the product, in an environment aligned with your brand’s messaging and values.  it’s a great opportunity to develop and refine your brand.

Navigating the business landscape

Ask Allen her toughest lesson as a businesswoman and she’ll say it’s navigating the high price of entry.

“For women—and Black women in particular—the price of entry into business ownership can be really high,” she says. “We’re not typically groomed for entrepreneurship, for managing staffs, or speaking to bankers. There’s this membrane of stuff we have to get through before we can get to the meat and potatoes of running our businesses.

“When I speak to women in particular, I tell them not to underestimate how challenging it will feel to bring your idea to market. I’m not saying it’s not hard for everyone, but I think for women in our society, there’s an added layer we need to get through before we get on the playing field.”

The playing field has been a bit lopsided in the last two years, but Allen says America’s worst pandemic in a century is something of a silver lining. It’s allowed her refine her business model and set the company up for growth.

“Nothing prepares you for stopping the way we did,” she says. “It wasn’t just a couple of weeks off; it was watching whole contracts dissolve, with expenses still owed. We’re lucky we had six payrolls in the bank. We had our best year in 2019, but had to deploy a ‘simplify to amplify’ mantra in 2020. We started thinking about how to augment our business to survive and then thrive.…”

She closed two locations, including the commercial kitchen she was renting for her pastry business, shifted over to delivery service, and built out her online retail presence.

Asked about the experience, she says, “Churchill was right. ‘No plan survives contact with the enemy.’ Work out your business plan, but know that it’s a living document, a “seed’ –  how it grows is subject to the environment and your stewardship of that process.  Be prepared for the natural “eb and flow” of that dynamic because it’s epic!!…

About MMELO Boutique Confections

MMELO (pronounced Mellow), is a Columbus based, woman and minority owned food manufacturer dedicated to all natural, modern artisanal confections, fine chocolates and pastries.

Combining our first love – Flavor – with traditional craft, wholefood ingredients and a healthy dose of experimentation, we offer high quality, dietary sensitive, decadent alternatives to the mainstream ‘junk food’ narrative.

To learn more about MMELO Boutique Confections, visit https://mmelo.co/.

Tune in today as Michelle Allen, Owner of MMELO Boutique Confections, sits down with cbuzz host Mikaela Hunt to discuss: Food Science Becoming a Culinary Passion & Having an Entrepreneurial Spirit.

A note about cbuzz production: We are thrilled to be back recording episodes for our Central Ohio community. Stay tuned for new episodes, which will share the stories of some of our best and brightest Columbus Chamber members. Thank you to our listeners for their patience and understanding as we worked to establish a virtual recording setup. You can learn about Capital University here and learn more about cbuzz host Mikaela Hunt here.

Cbuzz is the Columbus Chamber of Commerce’s business-focused podcast and was named Best Business Podcast in 2019 by the Columbus Podcast Awards. The show is produced in partnership with Capital University and its students, and the show is hosted by Mikaela Hunt, brand journalist and storyteller.