Annalisa Johnson, mother to a 10-year-old son and three stepsons and owner of Gotta Have S’more, discovered a new twist on the classic campfire s'more while leasing out some of her commercial kitchen space. She often tries her tenants’ creations, and this time it was a delicately dipped graham cracker crust topped with toasted marshmallow and a square of chocolate. Johnson saw potential in the treat and bought Gotta Have S’More in 2014. Over the next two years, she rebranded the treats into convenient packaging and added more seasonal flavors and designs. Today, you can pick them up by the dozen from their store in Los Angeles, or order them for delivery through their website.
This is not Johnson’s first foray into the food industry. In addition to owning a commercial kitchen space, Johnson runs Annie’s Edibles, a healthy gourmet meal delivery and catering service. Johnson’s cooking is a hit—just ask some of her celebrity clients like Robert De Niro, Matthew McConaughey or Stevie Nicks (to name a few). “I love the food industry. There is so much freedom in cooking—a certain freedom that I don’t think you can find in the corporate world,” Johnson says.
As if running three successful businesses is not enough, Johnson is also involved with Foster Nation, a charity that offers opportunity for career growth to individuals who grew up in the foster system. There, Johnson trains foster kids who have aged out of the system and teaches them how to cook and use that skill to gain employment. According to Johnson, “if you can cook, you have a job for a lifetime.”
Johnson tells Mom.me how she balances business and parenthood.
Describe the moment when you were inspired to buy Gotta Have S’More.
The first time I ate one! The original owner rented space from me, and I loved her product. Every time I sampled a s'more, I wanted to be a part of the company.
What made you want to buy Gotta Have S’More in addition to running Annie’s Edibles?
Desserts are more fun. With Annie's Edibles, we cook based on people's health preferences, so we are always watching calories and portion size. With Gotta Have S'more, people aren't worried about that. They just want to enjoy a special treat.
When did you first feel successful?
The first time I felt successful was when my dad said he was proud of me. He is my biggest inspiration and mentor, and when he says that I’m doing something right I know that I am.
As a mother and the owner of Gotta Have S’More, how do you make it all work?
I have an amazing support system between my staff, family and friends. They all chip in to allow me to make it to my son's school and sporting events. I could not do this without them.
Has there been anything about owning Gotta Have S’More that surprised you or inspired you in a way you didn't expect?
There’s something about the food service industry, especially deserts and specialty treats, that is very fulfilling for me on a personal level. Making people happy does a lot for my soul. Being a happy part of people's lives is an inspiration to keep doing what I do.
What sacrifices have you made as a mom and business owner to keep everything in balance?
Sleep! Once my son goes to bed, I finish my work and I wake up with ideas around 5 a.m. So I get started, and then when he wakes up, I get started again. Once upon a time people shut down at a certain time, but to be a viable business today you have to be able and willing to work around the clock.
What made you want to get involved with Foster Nation?
I met Maggie Lin (co-chair) through a friend, and we just hit it off. After I heard her story and found out more about the Foster Nation organization, you can't help but want to contribute to their cause.
As a successful female entrepreneur, what are some ways that you want to teach your kids about "girl power"?
Girl power is unlimited! Women are so amazing, and sometimes they have no idea until they are inspired. Right now my team is all women and each one is strong, fierce and independent. They inspire me to be better every day, and I think my kids pick up on that. They have a lot of great examples of girl power in their everyday lives.
If you could have lunch with any business person/entrepreneur/nonprofit founder living or dead, who would it be and why?
My dad—he is my toughest critic and biggest fan. He is an amazing business man with nothing but my best interest at heart. He shoots straight with me and lets me know when I am not on top of my game. He never allows me to accept mediocrity and pushes me to be better than I was yesterday.
What's your advice for moms who are looking to start their own business?
Do it. You can and will figure out the when and where later. Get your game plan together, and get focused. It’s a lot like having a baby—it requires a lot of patience and nurturing, but it’s well worth it and very rewarding to watch it blossom.