West Hartford entrepreneur Ali Lazowski received the US Small Business Association’s 2022 Microbusiness of the Year Award for the Connecticut District.
By Ronni Newton
Ali Lazowski grew up in a family with a strong entrepreneurial heritage, but she also grew up with significant health issues – migraines, exhaustion, joint pain, stomach pain – many of which are related to or exacerbated by what she had eaten.
Switching to a healthier diet, organic and free of gluten, dairy and sugar, helped her, but she really didn’t appreciate the allergen-free foods she could eat.
A little over four years ago, Lazowski decided to commit to doing something about it, and Bare Life was born. “It couldn’t be more in my DNA,” she said of her determination and drive to develop her own solution.
“It’s the taste of childhood,” said Lazowski, 31, whose Bare Life Coconut Hot Cocoa Mix can now be found in more than 110 stores, is sold in all 50 states and has been one of QVC’s highest rated products. She was recently named Connecticut 2022 Small Business Microenterprise of the Year, was personally named to local and regional “Top 40 Under 40” lists, and also won a ReSET Social Impact award. Bare Life was named “Best Vegan Hot Cocoa Producer”.
Connecticut SBA District Director Catherine Marx and Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz personally visited Lazowski at his West Hartford facility, which serves as a test kitchen, QVC set, and storage site, to celebrate the prize and taste cocoa. The lieutenant governor said she had no idea hot chocolate contained gluten, and Lazowski said there were many common misconceptions. “Unless it says gluten-free, it’s not gluten-free. It is not a clean product.
“We believe that naturally simple, allergen-friendly foods and ingredients are essential to your health and well-being,” states the Bare Life website. “For our hot chocolate, we took our time and selected the highest quality organic and kosher ingredients, without any preservatives, to create a delicious, simple-ingredient treat for you.”
From dreaming up a healthy way to satisfy her sweet tooth to creating and manufacturing a product she could sell, a plan was needed, and Lazowski didn’t hesitate to put her natural business acumen to work. . She participated in the ReSET Impact Accelerator program and also received a matching grant from the Women’s Business Development Council.
“I’m a big fan of asking for help,” Lazowski said, and Marx said it’s one of the most important things an entrepreneur should do.
Lazowski is now a board member of ReSET and is thrilled to be part of this community. “It’s so energizing to be surrounded by entrepreneurs,” she says.
Bare Life has grown throughout the pandemic and has now sold more than 250,000 cups of hot chocolate in all 50 states, Lazowski said. It is available locally at the two Whole Foods stores in West Hartford as well as other area Whole Foods stores, ShopRite and the University of Hartford campus store, as well as online.
She has six part-time employees and recently landed her first corporate account.
Bare Life contains only five ingredients: organic coconut milk powder, organic coconut sugar, organic cocoa, organic vanilla bean and Himalayan salt. It is available in portion packets to mix with hot water (or non-dairy milk) or in a 10-portion packet. Three tablespoons (added to six fluid ounces) contains 120 calories.
“All packaging is also recyclable,” she added.
And while many may view hot cocoa as a winter-only product, it’s actually seasonless, Lazowski said. “Smoothies, a smoothie bowl, fudgesicles, chilled hot chocolate martinis” are just a few of the concoctions that can be made using Bare Life as a base. It can be used to create a delicious mocha coffee, replacing cream and sugar.
Lazowski developed the recipes herself and is always thinking of more. Hot chocolate bombs, as well as ice cream, brownies and more can be found on the website.
“Fudgesicles are my favorite,” Lazowski said.
As for the name, Bare Life, Lazowski said she spent a lot of time trying to come up with the right name for her business — even though she knew she wanted “life” to be part of it.
“I was at my parents’ house, sitting on my crib, and I had all my stuffed animals around me,” she said. “Then I looked and there was my teddy bear, and my dad’s name is Barry…”
Recipes are tested in the West Hartford kitchen, but produced by a contract manufacturer with ingredients it sources.
“We give out a lot of awards, but it’s really nice to meet you in person,” Marx told Lazowski. “You are such an inspiration.”
Marx urged Lazowski to continue applying for grants, which could help with initiatives such as translating packaging into Spanish or attending trade shows.
“I’m so excited to know where we’re going with this,” Lazowski said.
Learn more about the Lazowskis
The Lazowski family’s legacy of survival and business success is well known in the Hartford area (Alan Lazowski of LAZ Parking is his uncle) and goes back many generations – and not just on the Lazowski side. Her great-grandmother, Miriam Rabinowitz, was one of Poland’s best-known pharmacists at the time when it was an extreme rarity for a married woman. Rebecca Frankel’s book, “Into The Forest,” chronicles the family’s escape from a Jewish ghetto in what was then Zhetel, Poland in the early 1940s. The story of how the daughter of Miriam Rabinowitz, Ruth came to marry Philip Lazowski (Ali’s grandfather and rabbi emeritus of the Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford) is recounted in her autobiography, “Faith and Destiny”.
Ali Lazowski’s cousin, Jesse Lazowski, is the designer of a successful jewelry line and owner of a boutique in Manhattan.
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