When Melissa Ben-Ishay got fired from her advertising job back in 2008, she decided to go home and do something that made her happy instead of simply feeling sorry for herself. So, what exactly did she do? Baked bite-sized cupcakes, of course! More than 10 years later, Melissa is now running her own cupcake empire, Baked by Melissa, in the Big Apple, where she’s also raising two adorable little girls with her husband. If you’re wondering how this successful mom does it all (spoiler alert: she doesn’t believe in the word balance!), scroll down to read more about Melissa’s work as the president and CPO of a company, check out her best mom hacks, and take a peek inside her jam-packed daily schedule.
Name: Melissa Ben-Ishay, President and Chief Product Officer of Baked by Melissa
Location: New York, New York
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Child and Family Studies from Syracuse University
Children: Scottie, 3, and Lennie, 1
You’re the founder, president, and chief product officer of Baked by Melissa! Tell us about how you started your super successful cupcake business.
I founded the company in 2008 after being fired from my job in advertising. We sell bite-sized, stuffed cupcakes that make people happy. Everything is made entirely by hand with only the most delicious ingredients, and we ship our product all over the country.
I’ve always loved to bake. When I got fired from my advertising job, I was baking cupcakes for everyone and anyone — if it was your birthday and I loved you, I baked you cupcakes. I was already known for these cupcakes, and my brother and I always wanted to start a business together, so he said, “Go home, bake your cupcakes — we’ll start a business.” I listened, and instead of going home and feeling sorry for myself, I went home and did what made me happy. I baked four batches of cupcakes and, the very next day, I sent them to work with my best friend’s little sister, who was working as an intern at a PR agency. Someone at the PR firm loved the cupcakes and put me in touch with a caterer. I went to him for a tasting less than a week after being fired. He loved them, and I started doing events with him less than two weeks after that, and Baked by Melissa was born. It’s a crazy story!
We’ve now been in business over 10 years. It’s even more fun now than when we first started. I appreciate it more. I’ve earned my position, and I’ve built a company and a team that are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It has surpassed my wildest dreams — and it’s still just the beginning! We have more than 250 employees, we have 14 retail locations, and 2019 will be the first year that our e-commerce outperforms retail and both are growing year over year.
What does your typical work schedule look like at Baked by Melissa?
I work full-time, five days a week. I’m usually one of the first people in the office, so I’m here before 9 am but I leave when my work is done. I’m fortunate to have a husband who finishes work before I do and often does the girls’ pick-ups, which is very helpful. And in my role, things come up, so I work plenty of weekends and weeknights.
You’re a wife and a mom to two little girls — tell us a bit about your family.
I actually met my husband the day we opened our first Baked by Melissa store. We now work together on product development at my company. We have two beautiful girls: a three-year-old named Scottie and a one-year-old named Lennie.
You became a first-time mother in the midst of starting and growing a business — what was that experience like?
Becoming a mom, obviously, gave me an entirely new priority when, for so long, my top and only real priority was Baked by Melissa. So, learning how to balance my company and my family is something that I do every single day. I think I’m in a constant state of FOMO. If I’m at work while my family is at home, I have FOMO. And if I’m at home while my tie-dye baby and Baked by Melissa family is at work, I also have FOMO. There’s no such thing as balance — my definition of success is working hard towards something I love. I see it as this incredible gift that I have the opportunity to work hard towards achieving something that I love so much, Baked by Melissa and, of course, my family. I don’t work towards retirement; I don’t want to be doing nothing. I think that doing something that makes you feel fulfilled at the end of the day is truly what success means, and I definitely feel fulfilled at the end of my day.
How much do your girls know about your job and your business?
One of my favorite experiences as a mom was when we went to Aruba with my parents and we flew out of JetBlue’s terminal at JFK, where we have a Baked by Melissa store. We stopped at the airport store and got cupcakes, and I tried to explain to my oldest daughter, Scottie, that it was my business. She loves the cupcakes, she’s had them so many times, and we’ve told her before that I’m Melissa, but we don’t spend that much time in the stores because there isn’t one in Hoboken. So, our store visits are always when we’re in the city or at the airport.
On the way back from our trip, we were walking through the terminal again and I said, “Look, Scottie, there’s Baked by Melissa! Do you remember buying cupcakes at that store?” And she said, “Yes!” and was so happy. I replied, “You know how the store’s name is Baked by Melissa? Well, mommy is Melissa!” And, at that moment, I watched her little brain connect me with the store and she got so excited and grabbed my hand so tight and said, “You’re Melissa! Baked by Melissa’s my mom!”
I think her teachers at daycare and her babysitters think it’s the coolest thing ever and will talk to her about it too. Recently, I took her to the playground, and she was trying to make friends with this boy who was playing with another boy and she said, “My mom is Melissa!” It’s the cutest little thing ever. I don’t know how much she truly understands, but she gets it. I’m hoping to really use it to my advantage one day because my oldest is really a daddy’s girl — I’m holding out for my youngest — but it’s really great and they’re so lucky.
How has motherhood impacted you both personally and professionally?
Having kids forced me to do what I need to do at work and delegate the other things, which is wonderful. I couldn’t do it without my incredible team of like-minded, hardworking, passionate people who get sh*t done. I feel, as a business owner, that I’m just lucky to be in my position. I recognize the whole slew of challenges of being a working mom that I don’t have to face because I’m the founder, president, product developer, and face of the brand and I can’t be replaced. If I was just working for some big corporation, I think I’d feel even more pressure in a very high-pressure role already.
I think — motherhood aside — that you grow and learn from every experience. Motherhood has definitely been a huge experience that I’ve learned and grown from; I learn from it every single day. I’ve definitely become more confident — I made two babies, and that’s pretty spectacular! It gave me a new sense of self. It’s been humbling and confidence-building, and I’ve only been a mom for three years. I still have a long way to go, and I’m just learning and adjusting to what I experience every day.
As the owner of your own company, was it easy or difficult for you to take maternity leave after welcoming your children?
I took about eight weeks with my first child and then I vowed to take a full three months with my second. But I was on email — you could get in touch with me and I definitely worked when necessary. I also planned my product assortment through my pregnancies but, for the most part, I took a full maternity leave the second time around. With my first baby, it was hard for me to let go and take time off. I still felt like I had something to prove. I didn’t have the confidence that I have today — my older brother was our CEO, and I always wanted to show him how smart and capable I was. But by the time I had my second child, I had this new sense of self and I knew how important it was for me and my family to really take the time off. It’s still hard not to be here every single day, and I had to deal with that. I just recently went away for two weeks to visit my in-laws in another country, and that was really hard. It’s hard to be away because I consider Baked by Melissa my firstborn child in a lot of ways. I don’t want to be away, but sometimes it’s necessary and I think maternity leave is a perfect example of that.
Since you and your husband both work full-time, what do you use for childcare?
When my first child was born, we hired a nanny. Unfortunately, after six months, we went away to visit my in-laws for two weeks and when we came home she stopped showing up for work. My husband and I both work for Baked by Melissa and had to get back to work, so we wound up putting our daughter in daycare against my will. I didn’t think we would have children in daycare, I just always assumed we’d have a nanny. But after getting through the first week — which was really hard on me — I realized how incredible daycare is. It was such a perfect time to put her there. It helped her with stranger danger, she was around other kids, and she was constantly being stimulated. I quickly did a 180-degree turn and realized how amazing it was.
When we had our second, we felt we wanted her to be in daycare as well and didn’t think it would be fair to hire someone for three months and then let her go when we put our daughter in daycare. So, we put Lennie in daycare when she was three months old. That was very hard. It was also October, so she has had a cold since then, basically, because germs in daycare are definitely real. I think daycare is awesome, especially if you find one that you love, which we have. But it’s harder for the parents. I come home from work every night and unpack their bags, wash their water bottles and sanitize them, I make my three-year-old’s lunch, and do laundry. We have a cleaning lady, but she comes once or twice a week, if we’re lucky, and the rest is up to me and my husband, who is amazing. I often use the word impossible. I do think things are often impossible, but I know that it’s just a moment in time and we’re going to look back and miss this stage, so I’m just doing everything that I can to get through it and enjoy it and embrace the chaos.
Can you walk us through your daily routine?
Last night, we didn’t sleep because something is up with my youngest daughter — maybe she’s teething, maybe she’s coming down with something. From 11 pm to about 2:30 am, we were trying to get her to go back to sleep, and at 5 am, my alarm went off. I do the morning routine with the girls, but today I took a 5:30 am yoga class before that. My husband was out the door and heading to work shortly after I finished my class, so I got Scottie and Lennie ready for school and got their bags together for the day.
Next, I walked them to daycare and then hopped on the train to get to the office. We later got a call from daycare because my youngest daughter may or may not have a fever — her temperature is at 101.3, so we’re waiting to hear what’s next regarding that. My husband usually picks the girls up from daycare and brings them home in the afternoon. I run home as quickly as I can after I’m done with work and make dinner. Usually, that’s a vegetable-based meal for my husband and me and mac and cheese or pizza for my three-year-old. We get a subscription meal service for my one-year-old, although she’s eating everything we do as well.
After our family dinner, my husband usually gives the girls baths while I answer emails, look at Instagram, do laundry or clean up from the meal. I typically pack my daughter’s lunch for the next day using leftovers from our dinner. After that, we play a bit — right now, the weather is finally nice, so I love to garden. We have a little garden on our roof that my daughter and I are nurturing, so we’ll go up there and water the plants while our youngest is already asleep. We’ll then put my older daughter to sleep, and I usually go to sleep about an hour after.
You and your family live in Hoboken, New Jersey — what is it like living just outside of New York City with two little girls?
We really love Hoboken, we think it’s the perfect middle-ground between big Manhattan and the suburbs. I grew up in the suburbs and liked it, but I could never live there right now for the amount I work — I’d never see my children and be commuting too much. Hoboken is perfect for us, and we’ve also made a ton of new friends through our children, particularly through our oldest. We moved when I was nine months pregnant with Scottie, and we made so many new friends through her daycare. We spend weekends at soccer, gymnastics, birthday parties, and the park. We ride around on bikes and scooters and go out for ice cream and eat dinner at 5 pm. We just enjoy everything, especially now that the weather is nicer. Life is really about our kids, and our weekends are filled non-stop with activities with them and for them. It’s probably even more exhausting than our weekdays.
How has your view of motherhood changed since you became a mom yourself?
It has completely changed. It’s one thing to look at somebody with children and think about it, it’s another thing to experience it. I remember people telling me what it would be like when I was pregnant, but there really are no words to explain what it’s like to be a parent. It’s the most incredible thing that I’ve ever done. It’s so f**king hard and so f**king awesome — really!
What is the most rewarding part of being a mom for you? And what’s the most challenging aspect of parenthood?
The most rewarding part is just watching your children grow. I grew them in my belly, and they continue to grow and become real people who have thoughts and words and actions, and it’s beautiful, magical, and crazy. The most challenging part is — I’m sure all parents feel this — putting pressure on myself. I’m raising two people who are going to grow up to make their own decisions, and I can only equip them with everything I have to prepare them for life. It’s also challenging to raise a child with someone else. I’ve never had to share my role at work, but when you become a parent, you share that job, and it takes compromise, patience, listening, understanding, and you have to be willing to make mistakes. That’s challenging. I just had lunch with my best friend, and she just had a baby about a month ago. I was like, “Thank God you’re a mom now, now you see!” It’s hard. It’s awesome, but it’s hard.
When it comes to being a mom, what are you most confident about and what are you still insecure about?
I know I’m a great mom. I don’t know if I would have always said that, but we’re all just doing the best we can. I’ve learned that balance doesn’t exist. I’ve learned that I’m never going to feel like I’m a good enough mom, daughter, sister, friend, and wife and that comes with the territory — I’m just one person.
Now that you’re a parent, is there something that you and your husband have sacrificed at home that has surprised you?
It’s funny, I still never leave dirty dishes in the sink — I’m so OCD about cleanliness, it’s crazy. Now that we’re parents, we’re all about keeping our kids on their schedules even if it affects ours. I had a friend from high school who kept her kids on such a schedule and used to say things like, “I can’t get together because this child needs to nap or this one has this activity.” My husband and I used to say, “That’s so crazy, they’ve ruined your life!” But now that we have kids, we get it — if you don’t go by your child’s schedule, then they don’t sleep at night, and your life becomes miserable. We have completely adjusted to our children’s needs and nap times and bedtimes. I’m one of those parents now, I guess.
Can you share with us three mom hacks you rely on to make things work in your day-to-day life?
1. Always be real. I’m the person who sometimes says, “I’m going to kill my husband today,” and I’m fine with that because life isn’t perfect, and that’s real.
2. Stay close to your mom friends. I couldn’t survive without my mom friends because they get it, they understand. You need people who are experiencing the same things as you at the same time.
3. Amazon, FreshDirect, and Uber. I don’t know how working moms existed before this technology. I can’t go food shopping or to the drug store — it’s crazy! Even daycare has an app. I see when my daughter eats, pees, and plays, and I get pictures of her throughout the day. It’s convenient, and it’s necessary for my success as a mom.
Melissa Ben-Ishay is The Everymom…
Favorite family tradition? Dinnertime as a family as often as possible — multiple times a night!
Your dream vacation? I miss Tulum, Mexico — I haven’t been there since I became a parent.
Last home item you splurged on? We just got a new shelving unit from Room & Board, and I love it!
Most embarrassing mom moment? My husband gave my daughter her first haircut, and she looked like a boy for the next six months. He mentioned doing it like a week before it happened, and I remember thinking to myself, “I’ll pick my battles. I’m not going to say anything because he’s not really going to do it.” But I came home from a full company, store, and employee meeting to see my 6-month-old little girl — she had long hair, so much hair! — with a mushroom cut. That was the angriest I’ve ever been at my husband.
Proudest career achievement? Everything about Baked by Melissa — I’m so proud of it!
Favorite date night activity? Splurging on amazing sushi.
Best mom advice you’ve been given? Embrace the chaos — it goes really fast!