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For sisters and Zia Valentina owners Naomi Kashi and Dorit Simone, their Los Angeles granitas shop represents an opportunity to flex their entrepreneurial muscles and continue their family’s long history of strong female role models.
Growing up in the New York area before relocating to Southern California, the sisters had been inspired by people such as their great-grandmother, a single mother who raised three children during the great depression, and their mother, who moved to Los Angeles to help out with their three-year-old business.
In fact, that strong female presence is built into their business’ name – Zia Valentina is named after their Sicilian great aunt, a culinary wiz known for healthy and delicious creations.
“We come from a long lineage of strong women,” Simone said.
That inspiration and their sibling connection led the duo into their current endeavor.
Three years ago, Kashi moved to Los Angeles and began staying with Simone, who herself had relocated a few years earlier. Kashi would use the kitchen experiment with new ideas, but didn’t know exactly where it would take her.
Simone, who also works as a talent manager, tapped into her career-advising skills.
“I took her on like one of my actresses,” Simone said. “I said, ‘What do you want?’”
Kashi settled on granitas, a semi-frozen Italian dessert made from sugar, water and flavoring.
The waffle cup idea came from Kashi’s desire to create an eco-friendly cup. Zia Valentina started with a 4-ounce cup, coating the outside with Belgian chocolate. As the idea progressed, Kashi began coating the inside of the cup.
“Naomi has always been quite the inventor,” Simone said.
In 2013, a stroke of luck saw them take over a coveted stall at the the Original Farmers Market, at the corner of Third and Fairfax. The business took off, and they began selling the waffle cups – which they dubbed “Waffleshots” – at that retail location, as well as at establishments such as Alfred’s Coffee & Kitchen.
Before long, the rest of the family followed Kashi’s lead in relocating to Los Angeles. First the sisters’ parents moved from New York. Their brother followed shortly thereafter.
Kashi credits the birth of Simone’s daughters Lia and Ana to the migration.
“We’re a very close family,” Kashi said. “Being that far away from my nieces was just torture.”
In Zia Valentina’s short time in business, the sisters have garnered high profile appearances. In 2015, Kashi and Simone appeared on the Food Network show “Food Fortunes,” which connects food industry startups with investors in a manner similar to “Shark Tank.”
While their concept was tapped for investment on the show, a deal never came to fruition. Still, the appearance boosted Zia Valentina’s profile.
In April, the online magazine Business Insider posted a video of a Zia Valentina waffle cup on its Facebook page, another publicity boon. As of Wednesday, that video had been viewed 9.5 million times.
Since the Business Insider video, the sisters said they have had to maintain a “marathon pace” to keep up with press interviews and increased business.
That hard work isn’t necessarily anything new for the sisters, however. Simone said that owning their own business has been a 24/7 endeavor.
Kashi and Simone, along with the help of their mother, have been good examples for Simone’s young daughters, who have seen firsthand what strong female entrepreneurial spirits look like.
In fact, Lia and Ana have become the third generation of women to help out at Zia Valentina. The young girls can occasionally be found in the shop packing cones and helping their mother and aunt get ready for trade shows.
“They see how invested we are and they see we are building ourselves up,” Simone said.
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