Elizabeth Chambers Hammer
Elizabeth Chambers Hammer has entrepreneurialism and a love of baking in her DNA. As the daughter of a businesswoman and granddaughter of a chef, Elizabeth grew up surrounded by family and food. It’s no surprise then that she has parlayed her love of community and food to create Bird Bakery, while also finding time to judge and host several Food Network shows, contribute to the TODAY show and still focus on hard news, which is where she found her start in television.
As a mother, entrepreneur, television show host and wife, she seems to juggle it all seamlessly (and stylishly)! We sat down with her to learn more about her tricks of the trade when it comes to starting a business.
Tell us a bit about your childhood and what you envisioned becoming when you were older?
My childhood certainly set me up for where I am today. I grew up with an intense appreciation for food, a deep love of baking and have always gravitated toward people and their stories. My life has been a culmination of food, family and story telling and these passions have certainly come full circle.
You’ve talked about how you created Bird from a void in the market; we’ve read about Bird’s plans to expand to Denver. How do you choose which markets to enter? What do they have in common?
[laughs] I always say that I only open where I have free and abundant childcare, which is true, but they have to be places that are truly meaningful to me.
To start, San Antonio, was an absolute no brainer and the organic choice for our first location. I opened in the center next to the former location of my mother’s health food store, which she opened when she was just 26. I wanted to be within blocks of my grandmother’s former home and catering company, so I had a sense of the location when opening there and didn’t entertain other options. My father, Godparents and so many close family friends live in San Antonio—it’s certainly a city with very deep roots for me.
When opening our second location, in Dallas, I have to credit, Stephen Summers, of Highland Park Village. Stephen reached out constantly and consistently for years, diligently letting me know that Highland Park Village was the only home for our next location . He said, “You do not understand, if you don’t commit to HPV, I can’t go home! My wife will not speak to me. Everyone in Dallas loves Bird Bakery!” Which was obviously a reassuring and wonderful thing to hear. Then my mother-in-law moved to Dallas and my husband’s aunts and cousins all live there, so it was a homecoming of sorts.
Then Denver: I was born in Texas and moved to Denver for kindergarten, then Half Moon Bay, California for the majority of my childhood, then moved back to Denver the summer before my freshman year of high school.
Throughout high school, I played sports, was involved in student government and many other activities, but the most meaningful part of my high school experience, was DECA, which is a business marketing class/club. My senior year, I competed among tens of thousands of people and won Nationals for our Learn and Earn project, which essentially turned our school cafeteria into a student-run cafe. To win nationals because of a business plan that I created and executed had a tremendous impact and to this day, still remains one of the greatest moments of my life. When we open the doors of our Denver location, we’ll be about a mile from my alma mater, Cherry Creek High School. Thousands of Cherry Creek students leave campus each day for lunch, just as I did when I was there, and the fact that we’ll have the opportunity to serve them at BIRD bakery feels like it’s meant to be.
As someone who has talked a lot about family recipes and entertaining, what are your three must-haves for a successful gathering/soiree?
A beautiful table is a must. I love linens, china and silver. When I’m in London, I often wake up at dawn to visit Bermondsey, Spitalfields and other markets to find sterling and antique serving pieces. Having a thoughtful table with meaningful things and meaningful company is what makes for successful entertaining.
A mentor once told me you learn more from the mistakes than the successes. What lessons have you learned from any career mistakes you’ve made in the past?
Every single mistake is a lesson. You have to think of it that way, otherwise you go crazy. The only way to figure out how to do something is to take a step in the direction that feels right.
When I opened Bird Bakery, I had never worked in a bakery – it was all new to me. I certainly learned by trial and error and by utilizing the resources and tools around me to the best of my ability. When we opened San Antonio, I didn’t have the budget to hire an architect, so I did the space planning and everything myself.
When it came to placing the oven, refrigerators, dish pit, etc. I knew where I would put them in my home, but a commercial space, where dozens of people were working every day, was quite different. I went to Paloma Blanca [the famed restaurant in San Antonio], the CIA, and invited chefs into the kitchen and asked for their advice as to where to put each item, and marked it on a blueprint. Whenever something was confirmed three times by different individuals, that’s where it went. When starting a business, you do what you can with what you have. Certainly there have been mistakes and disappointments along the way, but after more than 8 years of running a company with over one hundred employees and every possible situation, challenge and scenario, nothing surprises me anymore.
Do you have different bestsellers between the different Bird locations?
It’s really funny. I don’t know if it’s the layout of the display case, but we sell a lot more cookies in Dallas and more cupcakes in San Antonio. We’ve tried to adjust our display case in San Antonio to mimic Dallas, but still, for whatever reason, it doesn’t change. SA loved their cupcakes and Dallas loved their bars and cookies!
Every single mistake is a lesson. You have to think of it that way, otherwise you go crazy.
In addition to having been a journalist, a successful entrepreneur and TV host, you’re also a mom to two children. Any ‘hacks’ you’ve learned along the way to manage it all?
I wish there were actually hacks! I think you just have to give it your all everyday. You just have to be present.
Somebody asked me, “How do you juggle it all?” There will always be times when you forget a swim lesson or meeting that you’ve had scheduled for weeks, but you just have to do your best. At the end of the day, it’s about showing up and just being present for my children, my company, husband and friends. With a lot of time management and love of what you’re doing, it seems to all work out.
Any time I feel like I am being pulled in one direction more than the other, like work, I’m reminded of the impact it has on the other part of my life. For example, whenever there’s a cooking activity at school, Harper will excitedly announce, “I got this! We own bakeries! I’m a baker.” She’s just so confident in herself, and I love that.
Do you have a signature weeknight dinner that you like to serve? What sorts of things are family favorites in your home (for dinner time)?
Absolutely! I have the easiest roast chicken in the world—it’s moist and delicious. It’s great because you can make it on a Monday night, and then the next day have chicken salad for school lunches. I also love to make soup from the bones. I’m not even a chicken person, but that recipe is the gift that keeps on giving.
What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned since opening Bird?
How loyal and supportive the community can be. I always say that when someone in San Antonio says “It’s nice to know you,” they don’t mean it in a perfunctory way, but they truly mean it’s nice to know you. San Antonio and Dallas have been such beautiful communities. I live in LA and travel often to New York and Europe often for work, but being in Texas feels like going back to my roots; and in the bakeries, there’s a palpable warmth. Our guests really seem to appreciate what we’re doing, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.
Where do you see Bird Bakery 3 years from now?
Our goal is to keep expanding and building our team. We’re looking at Houston and Austin, which are our most requested future locations. With each opening it gets more streamlined, and the learning curve gets easier.
I would also love to have our own cookware line and our BIRD cookbook is coming soon!
What does a typical Friday night look like for you?
There’s no such thing as a typical Friday night, but if I don’t have a work commitment, we keep it family and food-centered, which is exactly how I like it.
With each opening it gets easier, and the learning curve gets easier. We’re always learning new things.
Last meal on earth, what would you eat?
Several courses of uni, followed by Homemade Vanilla Bluebell ice cream.
Three things in your closet you’re living in currently?
My friend started a brand called wardrobe.nyc, which is a series of staples released in capsule collections. Right now I am living in her black blazer, cropped white top and black leggings.
Instagram! Definitely Instagram.
Outside of your family, who is a chef you really admire?
I work with so many amazing chefs on the Food Network. As in many industries, I’ve heard some mind-blowing stories from female chefs about the challenges they’ve faced in their culinary journey. I admire every female chef out there.
Name something you’d never wear
Never say never
What is the one thing your ideal kitchen has to have?