Everyday Icon: The Gourmet Creative

Meet Bisera of Lush Nuts fame in our gourmet creative interview for this week's Everyday Icons column!

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Young entrepreneurs are always capturing our hearts, and Bisera Urdarevik is no exception. The mastermind behind the ever-addicting Lush Gourmet Foods (the coconut lavender almonds will very likely change your life), Bisera adapted an old family recipe and - as a 21-year-old - candied it into a booming business headquartered in Kalamazoo, MI. Although she won't spill the secret recipe, we did manage to steal a few inspirational thoughts from Bisera on role models, young entrepreneurs and the importance of integrity:

You're young but have already established a successful business creating gourmet nuts based on an old family recipe. What are your "secrets" to success? What has worked in your favor and what lessons have you learned along the way?

Oh boy. I have to say that there really is no recipe for success. There are common ingredients, but the method varies. I’ve talked to several business owners and read countless stories of entrepreneurial success, and have found that there is no ‘right’ way to succeed; it’s a different path for everyone. What has worked best for me is staying true and honest to my overall vision for the company. Customers can feel when you are [or are not] genuine in what you do and I’ve really focused on growing organically. Though it may have taken longer to scale, I found it was important for customers to grow with the company and build that loyalty.

What are the core values that anchor your days?

The three most important would be quality, integrity, and innovation. Because I’m in an industry where we rely on frequent repeat business, it’s incredibly important to have consistency and quality of product. With that said, it can be easy to get lost and cut corners to help out the bottom-line, but that’s not always the right thing. I strive to implement ways of helping out the community and environment. We use 100% post-consumer recycled paper for our almond line and reuse/recycle more than half of everything that comes through the door. Lastly, innovation is key. People are always looking for the newest thing, flavor, gadget and I find it very important to keep customers interested in what’s next. A new flavor, product, or entire line is what keeps our customers intrigued, and with flavors like Coconut Lavender, how can you go wrong?

Clementine Daily is a space for women to live authentic, inspired lives. What are some areas you could strive to improve in your life, and what are some areas in which you're giving yourself a little grace?

Giving back is so important and rewarding, but I’ve been getting a bit behind lately. When first starting Lush Gourmet Foods I had an endless list of questions, with no direction or guidance. After being in business for over three years I’ve come to learn a great deal, mostly through failure and correction. It would have been a lot easier and less stressful having a mentor to answer those questions. So, the goal is to give back and help others in the same position. There are two female foodie entrepreneurs that have reached out and I’ve always been conscious of responding to every question, but my goal is to be more proactive and check in on them more frequently.

In terms of giving myself grace, I take a ‘personal’ day every so often. I work incredibly hard – 60-70 hours a week (including the weekend) and more during our busy season - so when I’m frustrated or too stressed to make rational and well- thought out decisions I’ll give myself a day off, even if that’s in the middle of the week. It’s a day to relax, regroup and come back with full-force.

Who is your Everyday Icon?

I really have two, well three. On a personal and day-to-day basis I would say my parents. They have done so much to give my siblings and I a great life, but it came with great struggle. They immigrated to Canada via Macedonia without knowing the language, and worked every single day to be successful and have a better life. They are true inspirations and I strive to bring that hard work ethic and dedication into everything that I do. On the business side, the person I look up to most is Katrina Markoff, the founder of Vosges Haut-Chocolat. She has done an incredible job at building not only a business, but also an internationally known brand. She paved the way for female food entrepreneurs like myself and has always stood by her vision.

Do you live by a motto or mantra?

If you’re not 100% committed, it’s just an expensive hobby. When I first started out I thought I was a real businesswoman; looking back, it was more of a hobby. It was after the second year when I realized that I had to commit myself fully, regardless of whether it meant that there would be sleepless nights or a limited social life—it was about reaching the end goal.

What are five everyday items you wouldn't want to live without?

1. Coffee from Kalamazoo Coffee Company. Not only is it local, but also it’s some of the best I’ve had. And their packaging? Impeccable.
2. Re-usable water bottle; BPA-free, of course. You will never find me without it. I drink water like it’s my business. Second, that is.
3. Burt’s Bees lip balm (peppermint). It’s kind of an unhealthy obsession. I buy the bulk packs. Enough said.
4. My cellphone – is that terrible? I hate to admit that my day revolves around it, but in this day-and-age it’s an essential for any business owner.
5. My car. It makes everyday tasks a lot more convenient!

What do you hope to accomplish in 5-10 years? What might Lush Nuts look like in the future?

Life is undeniably unpredictable, so I tend not to look too far ahead. I really try to focus on the near future, but I of course have goals that I want to accomplish. Lush Nuts will grow with some additional flavors, but I also have plans to introduce new lines of products such as different nuts (pecans, walnuts, etc.), mixes, and potentially spreads. There are a whole slew of ideas racing in my head, but it’ll take time before they are introduced. Lush Gourmet Foods has grown very organically over the last three years, and it will stay that way. You won’t see our product on every corner; I think it’s more intriguing and special that way.

p.s. Want to hear from another foodie entrepreneur? Meet the L.A. baker.