West Hartford entrepreneur Ali Lazowski has been recognized with the U.S. Small Business Association’s 2022 Microenterprise of the Year Award for the Connecticut District.
By Ronni Newton
Ali Lazowski grew up in a family with a strong legacy of entrepreneurship, but she also grew up with some significant health problems – migraines, exhaustion, joint aches, stomach pains – many related to or exacerbated by what she had been eating.
Changing to a healthier diet that was organic and free of gluten, dairy, and sugar helped, but she really didn’t enjoy the allergen-friendly foods she was able to eat.
Just over four years ago Lazowski decided to commit to doing something about it, and Bare Life was born. “It could not be more in my DNA,” she said of her determination and willingness to develop her own solution.
“This is what childhood tastes like,” said Lazowski, 31, whose signature Bare Life coconut hot cocoa mix can now be found in more than 110 stores, is sold in all 50 states, and has been a QVC top-rated product. She recently was named the Connecticut 2022 Small Business Microenterprise of the Year, has personally been named to local and regional “Top 40 Under 40” lists, and has also won a ReSET Social Impact award. Bare Life has been named a “Best Vegan Hot Cocoa Producer.”
Catherine Marx, the District Director of Connecticut’s SBA and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz personally visited Lazowski at her West Hartford facility which serves as a test kitchen, QVC set, and storage site, to celebrate the award and sample the cocoa. The lieutenant governor said she had no idea that hot chocolate contained gluten, and Lazowski said there are many common misconceptions. “Unless it says gluten-free, it’s not gluten free. It’s not a clean product.”
“We believe that naturally simple allergen-friendly foods and ingredients are essential to your health and well-being,” the Bare Life website states. “For our hot cocoa, we’ve taken our time and sourced the highest quality organic and kosher ingredients, without any preservatives, to create a delicious treat for you made from simple ingredients.”
From dreaming of a healthy way to satisfy her sweet tooth to creating and manufacturing a product she could sell required a plan, and Lazowski didn’t hesitate putting her natural business acumen to work. She participated in the ReSET Impact Accelerator program and she has also received an equity matching grant from the Women’s Business Development Council.
“I’m a big believer in asking for help,” Lazowski said, and Marx said that’s one of the most important things an entrepreneur should do.
Lazowski is now on the board of ReSET, and is thrilled to be part of that community. “It’s so energizing being around entrepreneurs,” she said.
Bare Life grew throughout the pandemic, and has now sold more than 250,000 mugs of hot cocoa in all 50 states, Lazowski said. It’s available locally in both Whole Foods stores in West Hartford as well as other Whole Foods stores in the area, ShopRite, and at the University of Hartford campus store, as well as online.
She has six part-time employees, and recently landed her first corporate account.
Bare Life contains just five ingredients: organic coconut milk powder, organic coconut sugar, organic cacao, organic vanilla bean, and Himalayan salt. It’s available in serving-size packets to be mixed with hot water (or non-dairy milk) or in a 10-serving pouch. Three tablespoons (added to six ounces of liquid) contains 120 calories.
“All packaging is recyclable as well,” she added.
And while many may consider hot cocoa a winter-only product, it’s actually season-less, Lazowski said. “Smoothies, a smoothie bowl, fudgesicles, chilled hot cocoa martinis” are just some of the concoctions that can be made using Bare Life as a base. It can be used to create a delicious mocha coffee, replacing cream and sugar.
Lazowski developed the recipes herself and is always thinking of more. Hot cocoa bombs, as well as ice cream, brownies, and many more ideas can be found on the website.
“The fudgesicles are my absolute favorite,” Lazowski said.
As for the name, Bare Life, Lazowski said she spent a lot of time trying to come up with the right name for her business – although she knew she wanted “life” to be part of it.
“I was at my parent’s house, sitting on my childhood bed, and I had all my stuffed animals around me,” she said. “Then I looked and there was my Teddy bear, and my dad’s name is Barry…”
The recipes are tested in the West Hartford kitchen, but produced by a contracted manufacturer with the ingredients she sources.
“We give a lot of awards, but it’s really nice to meet you in person,” Marx told Lazowski. “You’re such an inspiration.”
Marx urged Lazowski to continue applying for grants, which could help with initiatives like translating the packaging into Spanish or fund attendance at trade shows.
“I’m so excited for where we’ll go with it,” Lazowski said.
More about the Lazowskis
The Lazowski family’s legacy of survival and business success is well known in the Hartford area (Alan Lazowski of LAZ Parking is her uncle), and goes back several generations – and is not just on the Lazowski side. Her great grandmother, Miriam Rabinowitz, was one of the best known pharmacists in Poland back when that was an extreme rarity for a married woman. The book by Rebecca Frankel, “Into The Forest” chronicles the family’s escape from a Jewish ghetto in what was then Zhetel, Poland in the early 1940s. The story of how Miriam Rabinowitz’s daughter, Ruth, came to marry Philip Lazowski (Ali’s grandfather, and the rabbi emeritus of the Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford) is told in his autobiography, “Faith and Destiny.”
Ali Lazowski’s cousin, Jesse Lazowski, is the creator of a successful jewelry line and owner of a Manhattan boutique.
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford! Click the blue button below to become a supporter of We-Ha.com and our efforts to continue producing quality journalism.