Parisian born Michèle La Porta opened her first tea salon, Thé Cool, in 1985. A unique and exclusive concept in Paris, Thé Cool was the very first salon to serve not only tea and pastry, but also homemade light savory dishes. When former French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy entered "Thé Cool" for the first time, she tasted the "almost no calorie" cake La Porta kept in the display case and what followed was a huge buzz. With growing popularity, La Porta was invited to host her own cooking show on France 2 "TéléMatin" TV show, (the equivalent of "Good Morning America.")Her life changed in 2008 when she fell in love with Los Angeles during a 3-week visit, entered the Green Card lottery on a dare and won. She left Paris, came to L.A with her daughter and, after a series of Thé Cool pop-ups, opened Pure with Azoulai.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was lucky early in my career to find the right location at the right time. When I started my journey in Food and Beverage my intention was to bring women in the workforce healthy and tasty alternatives to the grim Lettuce, Tomato, Ham and Gruyere salads that made up 90% of Parisian café salad menus.
I opened my concept in the heart one the most affluent neighborhoods in Paris. When I opened Thé Cool in 1985, I expected to cater to neighborhood patrons instead, the word of mouth brought many if not all of the most influential women in Paris who found in my concept exactly what they were looking for and turned my little Salon de Thé into a hub where business woman, political figures, actresses and models came for healthy eating and guilt free comfort food.
My clients have helped shape my vision and my personal relationship with them has provided me with a keen understanding of my industry in a way that no cooking school or formal kitchen training would have. In turn, I now strive to inspire my team to grow from experience, to embrace their calling and to stay open to the unexpected blocks that pave the road.
I surround myself with like-minded spirits, may they be my financial partner, my operations team or my kitchen staff. We share a common vision of tomorrow and we are able to stay in tune with each other as to the vision to build OUR business in a common effort.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Pure?
My career didn't just happen. I built my restaurant, my reputation and my TV Host persona one building block at a time. If I have come all the way across the Atlantic to Beverly Hills to open a new concept, I can assure you it is the culmination of my experiences in cooking, running my business, being a TV Host, a mother and being hands on restaurant operator who has personally met and befriended all of my clients. Case and point, Isabelle, my partner in this adventure was a client. As is my development and operations gal, and more than a few of my very first clients right here in Beverly Hills.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Pure?
Pure is still in its infancy. I had the opportunity to test my recipes that I tweaked and redefined for an Angelino palette last year but I suppose the most challenging has been to stick to the model that we have set for our concept. Packaging the food has been challenging.
As we aim for a sustainable concept wit healthy choices our food must be served in environmentally conscious packaging. Such packaging is not always readily available an when it is, well suddenly it isn't anymore because the suppliers it "out of stock" till June! So definitely, packaging.
Otherwise, this is by far the most exhilarating and exciting experience of my career. Opening a new concept in a new country for new client base. What can be more exciting?
What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Don't let anyone tell you it can't been. It can. And, it can only be done by you because it is your vision and your ambition. Dedicate yourself, focus and nurture your career, business or project as if you would a child. Be better than you are, be stronger.
As women we must hold ourselves to higher standards. There is no other way. And before you know it, you will find that you have achieved your goals. Success can only exist if you first grab the opportunity.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
I have absorbed a lot in the last 30 years. I could give you laundry list of all that I have learned but more specifically and the one lesson that I am building Pure on is: location, location, location.
Location is the most important ingredient in succeeding in the retail business. Your address is what will allow you to build your client base, your reputation, but also your standards because your client's expectations become your guideline.
The more demanding the clientele the more proficient the product and the service.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
My daughter is turning 18. She is my sanity and my center. She keeps me grounded. She has a grown into a smart and talented writer and a beautiful young woman. She won't put up with any antics! She's headed to College in the fall - King's College actually. She is the force that drives me. My constant.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The real answer to this question is more often than not polarizing. As I mentioned above. women in the workplace must hold themselves to higher standards. In the highest offices, women are still struggling to push through whereas men half their age with half their knowledge and experience pass them over. The glass ceiling is not a myth.
In my industry most Executive Chefs are men. In France, almost all of them are.
Last year I staged a pop-up for a few months in a neighborhood café for lunch. The existing all-male kitchen staff refused to cooperate with me and follow my lead. I only imposed myself and proved an equally hardworking cook and a woman of strength by pulling 10 to 12 hour shifts. Then and only then did they finally accept my expertise and made room for me in the kitchen.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
William LEYMERGIE, of France 2, producer of Telematin for 25 years, sent his staff to my Salon de Thé to offer me a food segment on his morning show. I had no idea what I was doing. It was a live show. His mentorship pushed me to my limit. He didn't give me an option. I carried it all, if I may say so myself, with much grace under tremendous pressure and I emerged - thanks to William - as a successful host, a more confident woman and with a very unique experience in the eye of the media.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire women who just won't give up. Who have a vision and dedicate themselves entirely. Those who reach potential against all odds and make their mark. Perhaps the next president of the United States would be such a person. Coco Chanel. The very first woman to carve a piece of eternity in an industry dominated by men. Then and now. And to this day, a reference in every which way. Oprah Winfrey.
What do you want Pure to accomplish in the next year?
Pure is a variant of the fast, casual, on-the-go, concept with a French twist. It has changed the way Parisians, and Londoners, plan for their daily lunch break. It's a concept is in sync with the Millennial workforce. It is a healthy, sustainable, fresh and tasty alternative to drab and/or expensive sit-down meals, microwavable lunches or quickserve.
In the next year we hope that we are able to implement at lease two other stores in Greater Los Angeles. We hope to sync ourselves with the habits and demands of a busy business crowd that has a very short lunch break to catch its breath and doesn't necessarily have the inclination nor the budget for a traditional tableservice establishment -- or its infamous fast food alternative.
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