Q&A| Elaina Elliott
with NWA Girl Gang Team Member Erika
Photography by cvvisionsphotography
NWA Girl Gang caught up with Elaina Elliott, owner of Primal Pastry, to discuss how a passion for baking turned into starting a small business-- with a healthy twist.
NWA GirlGang: Tell us about you Elaina and how did your passion for pastries come about?
Elaina: The passion has always definitely always been there. Food has always been a huge thing for me. I'm 31 years old so I have kind of been around the block for awhile and have worked in a lot of kitchens, bakeries and that kind of stuff. I have had Celiac and was diagnosed with Celiac 9 years ago so that opened up my whole world to the idea of healthy alternatives. This was at a time when gluten free wasn't even in people's mouths yet. No body even knew about it, no one knew what Celiac was. It was a very new concept for people and there wasn't much out there. Funny enough, I was working in a French bakery in Colorado, but I'm originally from Vegas. I have lived in a lot of different states over the last 15 years, but at the time I was working at this bakery and the doctor, the naturopath I was seeing, she thinks what triggered my celiac was being around flour constantly all the time. So it was ironic how it came about. From then, I just gained a whole new perspective on alternative and healthy foods. Fast forward to 2019, when I decided to take my passions to the next level and go to culinary school. I was fortunate enough to find a culinary school that offers an entirely online platform and could customize everything I did through the program to be gluten free so that any assignments I had wouldn't involve flour. The whole baking segment I had I was able to customize to be able to get through.
From there I had an entrepreneurship class towards the end of school and we were asked to create a business model and that's where Primal Pastry was born. I was looking into Northwest Arkansas primarily and ' what are we lacking' and what would I love to see and what would I be personally into. I've been a big coffee buff for many year and of course, what goes best with coffee? Donuts and pastries. That got the wheels turning and created a business model and sat on it. Life happens I guess. I worked in several rope swing concepts and industry jobs. One thing led to another but the biggest catalyst, which is funny--almost being like a phoenix from the ashes--.but covid put my life in perspective. I thought if things are going to get this bad, then I know what my future will be and may as well say screw it and do it. I know people want this kind of thing and want new and different and something to do. People want something to bring the community back together and that was where it was born.
NWAGirlGang: Was there a specific moment when you decided to embark on the adventure of being a small business owner? What was the catalyst or biggest influence for you?
Elaina: Probably last year, my internship at Disney World was last year which was an experience in itself. That Easter of 2019, my dad past very suddenly of a heart attack. It shifted my perspective on how short life is and how I shouldn’t be wasting my time in any capacity. I know what my dad would have wanted for me. He knew how passionate I was about food and about using my creative side anyway I can. He was always really big on bring people together and laughing and enjoying the community. I wanted to bring those things out in it in a way that I know would make him and myself proud. That was the real ah-ha moment, but I still sat on it because I was unsure. I realized though that there really isn't a right moment. I think from the start and especially now, this has become more a mainstream thought, but inclusivity was always at the forefront for me. I'm offering an allergen friendly product. A lot of people talk about these hot button topics are things we want to think twice about, but not in any comparison, you don't think about people who can't be included because of a peanut allergy or a dietary restriction. It’s a struggle people don’t always talk about. I'm open to the inclusivity of all the common and obvious things, but to bring forth that inclusivity forth with food too, I think it a huge thing for people. Health education around food too is something I think people want and need
NWA GirlGang: What would you say to those considering big, life changing decisions in life—for example starting a small business—what is your “North Star” when making those decisions?
Elaina: I would say probably thinking about if its something that lifts you and others up, then go for it. At the end of the day, you are only going to reap the positivity out of it. I think a big thing for me is approaching everything with an open mind, but not being afraid to say no with a smile. There are plenty of crazy decision making opportunities that can come your way when you are trying to start something new, but I would say think on it for a day. If you feel as though it lifts you to do this, then absolutely find a way to do it, otherwise you will just wish you had.
NWA GirlGang: Why is it important to take space in the industry you’re in, despite obstacles that may come along the way?
Elaina: Touching on health education, so as a part of my education, I spent a lot of time in a nutrition field breaking down the science of things and being able to present it in a way that’s appealing and also makes sense for the masses. Putting something in a pretty package and being able to speak to kids about it, but also speak to well educated adults about it and it still make an impact. I just think that communication on all planes is really important.
NWA GirlGang: I'm just curious, how much of that lack of option in a mass way was a driver to your desire to put something out there for the community?
Elaina: Huge. When it comes to lack of access to things, for me, I would rather put out a genuine product than just fluff. I draw inspiration a lot from myself as a child. Nostalgic things that I wouldn’t have access to as a kid, or things I don’t have access to now given my dietary restrictions. Putting a spin on things that are familiar to people in a healthy way is like tying a bow that gives it a little extra something for people so they can relate.
NWA GirlGang: This year has been a whirlwind for alot of people. How do you take care of yourself while also building a business? What keeps you sane?
Elaina: I like to be pretty strict about two days a week unplugged. Usually it is weekends, but if I'm doing the farmers market, a lot of times it will be a Thursday and Sunday where I'm off social media and go spend time outdoors. I pend time in nature, its one of my favorite things to goal. This kind of ties back into my 'North Star.. It's always been one of my goals to see every national park in the U.S. I've seen ten so far but feel like I want to go back and see them again. It was when I was in my earlier 20's when we didn't have cool phones to take cool photos or social media. But yeah, I have more opportunity now. Being outdoors and one with nature has always really really impacted me. I like to bring that aspect into my baking too. The majority of my ingredients are coming from nature in some way, so I like to really respect that and see what I can contribute back in that way also.
NWA GirlGang: How have you learned to trust your gut throughout this journey to becoming a small business owner?
Elaina: I think just opening myself up to opportunity has been a big thing. I think I was closing myself off when I was coming up with excuses of why I couldn’t possibly start this business yet. Whether it be fear, lack of funds or not the right time-- I could come up with a million excuses. Ultimately if your heart goes back to that same idea, I think there's something that is worth seeing through. I think that was the guiding light for me. No matter what season of my life I was in, I always go back to food and baking in my creativity therein. At a certain point, it was like 'you're being stupid, let's get this going.
NWA GirlGang: One more thing. I come from a line of superstitious grandmothers. The rumor is that if you're in a bad mood, you shouldn't cook because the flavor of your food suffers. As a chef, do you agree with that or no?
Elaina: I would agree 100%. I would say if you're in a bad mood, take a moment and go meditate. Go breath it out or whatever you have to do. Any kind of decision making you are engaging in in a bad mood is not going to go well. You're going to end up burning something and get even more mad after that and it just snowballs from there. I can speak first hand to that absolutely.
NWA GirlGang: Good to know!
Elaina: When I'm baking, because its very therapeutic for me and always has been, I'll just put on some tunes and will dance around the kitchen, having a good time. I feel like that puts extra love into it. It sounds kind of cheesy, but like, it truly is baked with love because I'm enjoying what I'm doing while doing it.
ABOUT| Elaina Elliott
Elaina Elliott is an Auguste Escoffier Culinary Graduate and owner of Primal Pastry. As someone who has lived with Celiac for 9 years, Elaina is a non-toxic living enthusiast. Elaina is an avid coffee drinker, national park travel buff and lover of all things neon. Check out Primal Pastry and give Elaina a FOLLOW on Instagram!