Crystal Coser, President and Founder of Bites & Bashes

Editor’s Note:  Crystal Coser has accomplished more at the ripe age of 25 than many have in a lifetime.  Each week, I have the privilege of talking to a variety of driven women, but admittedly the younger ones always seem to catch me off guard!  Their inspiration that catapults them on their career journey always seems to come from a unique place, which to me indicates that they have a depth and wisdom beyond their years.  In Crystal’s case, her mother’s immigration to the US and their collective passion for food not only inspired her, but sparked a unique and beautiful collaboration resulting in the launch of their business.  Crystal has a selfless heart, a supportive spirit and a knack for making absolutely mouthwatering food {which I’ve been fortunate enough to taste firsthand!}.  With all that she’s accomplished at such a young age, I can only imagine what’s to come.

Photo Courtesy Michelle Park

Photo Courtesy Michelle Park

{a tale of two cultures}

Crystal Coser is a second generation immigrant born to a Korean mother and an American father.  Her mother, Julie, came to America in her 20’s to help her own mother open restaurants across the Los Angeles area. 

“Food was always a part of my mother’s history and my grandmother’s history. It’s what they did to survive in this new country.”

After marrying Crystal’s father, a dentist, Julie found that hosting dinner parties and entertaining at their home was a way of drawing people together, immersing herself into this new American culture through clinking glasses and steaming plates.

“I watched my mom entertain for our loved ones nearly every weekend. I learned from a very young age the power of food to bring people together.”

Crystal and her mother, Julie / Photo Courtesy Michelle Park

Crystal and her mother, Julie / Photo Courtesy Michelle Park

{the letter that landed Harvard}

Fast-forward to Crystal’s entrance into Harvard University, where her admissions essay that centered around growing up in the kitchen with her mother caught the eye of admissions officers.

“My essay for Harvard was about my life in the kitchen with my mother.  At the age of eight I started helping my mom with pastries and desserts. I’d serve soufflés and crème brulée to the guests at my parent’s dinner parties.  Soon thereafter, people started asking my mom to cater events for them, so I took it upon myself to build a website and do some branding for this business we were growing. By eighteen, we had catered 300-person weddings, philanthropic galas, and corporate events.”

Everything about her experience, her tenaciousness, her entrepreneurial spirit, her passion for her family and culture, made Crystal a shoe-in at the University.  It didn’t hurt that she was wicked smart, too.

Crystal at Graduation from harvard University / Photo Courtesy Crystal Coser

Crystal at Graduation from harvard University / Photo Courtesy Crystal Coser

{an appetite for food}

Crystal threw herself into the food scene at Harvard, managing the on-campus pub while also serving as chair of the College Events Board, throwing events for all 7,000 undergraduate students. Her major was Economics with a minor in both French and the History of Art and Architecture, but to supplement she took every course on food that the University had to offer.

“I studied molecular gastronomy with Ferran Adria and Jose Andres, and numerous anthropology and history courses that covered food.  At one point I wrote a 30-page essay on kimchi! I probably could have also minored in food if it were available!”

She wrote restaurant reviews for one of Harvard’s lifestyle publications, knowing that a career in food was her ultimate goal but also being realistic about her opportunities at Harvard.

“All my classmates were working at Goldman and McKinsey for their summer internships, and I was working at a restaurant consulting firm.  There’s so much opportunity that comes from going to Harvard, but if you’re looking to do something outside of the traditional career paths, you really have to forge your own way.”

Photo Courtesy Michelle Park

Photo Courtesy Michelle Park

{a career taste test}

Upon graduating, Crystal dove into a new role at an experiential marketing agency where she used her skills to throw parties for high-profile celebrities and corporations.  She was so successful in this role that she ended up being promoted several times over, eventually landing the role of Director of Brand Strategy at age 24.

“I loved the role but was missing the food side of events, so I ended up getting a job as the Associate Editor of ‘Eater LA’ while I was still at the experiential marketing agency.  This overlap was definitely not healthy; I felt like I was in a constant state of cardiac arrest the whole time!”

The writing job at Eater LA {where she still works as Associate Editor} helped open Crystal’s eyes, showing her that her true passion lies in food and that’s what she should be tackling full-time.

Julie Coser in the kitchen / Photo Courtesy Michelle Park

Julie Coser in the kitchen / Photo Courtesy Michelle Park

{two cooks in the kitchen}

Drawing on her experiences from her past roles in a variety of food and management-related industries, Crystal decided this past summer that she would team up with her mom to launch their catering business “Bites & Bashes” full-time.

“Ever since my mom came to America, her life has always been about supporting others.  She’s finally had an opportunity to do something for herself, and that’s attend Le Cordon Bleu in Los Angeles.  My mom is truly the most talented chef I know, and I’m lucky to have her be the executive chef of Bites & Bashes!  I couldn’t do this without her.”

Bites from Bites & Bashes / Photo Courtesy Crystal Coser

Bites from Bites & Bashes / Photo Courtesy Crystal Coser

{recipe for success}

The result of Crystal and Julie’s drive to develop Bites & Bashes has been a hugely successful company that has taken the catering world by storm.  Creating their recipes has been a collaborative process, drawing inspiration from the Korean and American cultures they know so well.

“Oftentimes we’ll start working on menus independently and then when we compare we’ll see an enormous amount of cross-over.  We are basically the same person in the kitchen, and outside of it!”

The company has been so successful, in fact, that the duo hasn’t had to spend a dime on marketing, instead relying on word-of-mouth to secure referral…after referral…after referral.

Crystal’s dream is to one day own her own brick and mortar, saying the more people she can employ, the better.  But for now, she’s grateful for each day, she says, of “living her dream.”

The bites & Bashes team / Photo Courtesy Michelle Park

The bites & Bashes team / Photo Courtesy Michelle Park

{DRIVEN q&a}

You are only 25, and have already launched a successful business.  Do you have any advice for other young entrepreneurs out there who are looking to do the same?

“As soon as you figure out what your passion is, run with it. I knew from an early age that I wanted to do something in food, so every activity or job I ever pursued was related to the industry. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was truly building a foundation for starting my own business.”

At Harvard you essentially forged your own path to create a curriculum that you felt matched your needs and desires for a career out of college.  What did you learn from that experience?

“It really wasn’t about creating a curriculum based on a future career. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do when I graduated, so I just took courses that genuinely interested me. Instead of taking those extra economics courses to graduate summa cum laude, I took molecular gastronomy and food history. Ultimately, those courses benefited me far more than another semester of microeconomic theory. It really just reinforces the idea of pursuing what you love, and everything else sort of falls in place.”

I know that oftentimes you find yourself working three events in a day, which is a lot for a new company!  How do you manage this pressure?

“It doesn’t feel like pressure, it’s actually really exciting! It’s like game day for us. We do so much preparation for our events with everything from detailed production documents to team meetings, that it just ends up being fun to watch the day unfold. My mom and I wake up at 4 in the morning excited to get going! At the end of the day, we just feel lucky that we were able to help our clients celebrate special occasions. That’s what it’s all about!”

What’s your advice for throwing a great event?

“A few minutes of planning really go a long way. I like to write everything down — my menu, shopping list, and preparation schedule — to clear my head and develop a game plan. That way when the party starts, all you have to do is put on a good playlist and grab yourself a specialty cocktail (that you thoughtfully pre-mixed that afternoon)!”

When it comes to your career, what {if anything, ha!} are you intimidated by?

“I actually really enjoy being challenged, which is why I ultimately decided to found my own business. Now I’m challenged every day, whether it be throwing multiple events in a day or developing a business plan that gives me the opportunity to provide more full-time positions to my team. Its these challenges that keep things exciting and allow me to grow both personally and professionally.”

What is your advice on working with family?

“Patience. Operating a budding business is already an emotional undertaking, but everything is more intense when working with family. But in the end, the rewards are that much sweeter when they are shared with the people you love.”

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“If you don’t step forward, you’ll always be in the same place.” This resonated with me the most when I left my job to start my own business.”

Who inspires you?

“My mother! The fact that she’s about to graduate from Le Cordon Bleu at age 55 is so inspiring to me. You can really follow your passion at any age! I also think it’s incredible that she is starting a new business with her daughter at the time in life you’re supposed to think about retirement. I don’t know if there’s a more supportive mother in the world.”

To learn more about Bites & Bashes, click here!

Next week, it's DRIVEN's Celebration of Mothers!  We could not be more excited to honor all the beautiful mothers in our lives than with a special edition dedicated just for them, just in time for Mother's Day Weekend!  To learn more about honoring your own mother, friend, sister, wife, etc. click here! 

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