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Start Your Business Success Stories

How a Fashionista and Lawyer Went into the Business of Marshmallows

Lindzi Shanks and Kat Connor of XO Marshmallow
Credit: XO Marshmallow

Before Kat was an Expert Marshmallowist Maven, and Lindzi was a S'mores Sommelier, we were an aspiring lawyer and an online boutique owner, respectively.

Kat loves marshmallows. When she was in her last year of law school, and struggling to figure out what gift she could make for her loved ones, marshmallows came to mind. Her first batch of vanilla bean marshmallows was a huge hit! People couldn't believe you could make marshmallows or that they would taste so much better than the store-bought brand.

That spring, she hosted her first ever S'mores Bar as part of her graduation party. Everyone, from parents to work colleagues told her she to sell them. After graduation, Kat decided to continue to perfect her recipes and packaging designs. Then, she met me, Lindzi.

Five years ago, Lindzi moved to Chicago from Texas, to pursue a Ph.D. in Psychology. She had just opened a boutique and online blog, The Trendy Sparrow, and spent most of her time fulfilling orders and running her store.

In the winter of 2015, Lindzi was looking for seasonal help for her holiday pop-up. I, Kat, applied, and we immediately hit it off – Lindzi even offered to have me sell my marshmallows at The Trendy Sparrow! We ended up packaging marshmallows in sets of six or 12 inside coffee mugs Lindzi designed, and they flew right off the shelves. Impressed with how well our collaboration worked out, we became actual business partners - we each put $100 into a business bank account, and formally launched XO Marshmallow.

The opening of our online shop in 2016 turned out to be just the very beginning of our marshmallow adventures. Within the first few months of being in business, we hosted a Kickstarter campaign just to buy a bigger mixer; and within our first year of business, we were scoping out physical locations. We kept busy by hosting s'mores bars, hot cocoa stations, and participating in any festival or event that would have us (most people were thrilled to have us, because who doesn't like marshmallows?!).

Those first few months didn't come without struggle. But whether it was ingredients, recipe development, shipping woes, late nights in the kitchen or website crashes, we worked together to brainstorm and power through.

Since opening the online shop, we had been receiving requests for a café where customers could sit and eat the marshmallows and maybe even have a cup of coffee. The messages were coming in like crazy, so much so that we actually gave it some thought. Then, we just went for it.

We launched yet another Kickstarter and with days to spare, we received the funding to build out our marshmallow café in Chicago. We build out the space with our own two hands, and ensured our vision was portrayed in every little detail, from the steps coming in to the neon sign above the countertop.

Credit: XO Marshmallow

On July 1, 2017, we opened the doors to Chicago's first ever marshmallow cafe and wonderland. Inside our shop we offer everything from marshmallows and hot chocolate to s'mores. Neither of us had ever owned a café before so we had to decipher pricing, equipment, payroll, how to accept payment, the menu, hours, seating and so much more.

Since opening, we've been able to expand our team to include an amazing pastry chef, and together have come up with amazing new flavors, like rainbow sherbet, Butterbeer and red wine.

Since most of our customers have commented on the fact that marshmallows are gluten-free, we went ahead and developed gluten-free graham crackers, chocolate chip cookies and s'macos (s'more tacos) so anyone with gluten sensitivity can join in on the fun.

What's next? This year, we are dedicated to providing local delivery options, expanding our team, and establishing XO Marshmallow as the foremost gourmet marshmallow company in the U.S. In the meantime, we'll continue to do what we do best: making marshmallows with love.

About the authors: Lindzi Shanks and Kat Connor are the co-founders of XO Marshmallow, an online shop and local Chicago café. Innovative flavors include green tea, lavender honey, vanilla, bourbon, champagne, salted caramel and more.