NEKEI LEWIS IS ON A MISSION TO
INSPIRE ONE MILLION ENTREPRENEURS
Tammy Levent is a keynote speaker, business strategist, best-selling author and TV travel correspondent. Tammy is the founder of Elite Travel, an award-winning national travel agency and the founder of It's My Bag, a nonprofit organization that donates suitcases to children in foster care. Tammy most recently launched Heavenly Puffs, a classic Greek dessert that are like donut holes with the policing crunchiness on the outside, and a unique fluffy, airy interior. Having overcome many obstacles in her personal life and career, Tammy is on a mission to teach others that it's truly not what happens to you, but how you deal with your situation and move forward. She proudly shares her remarkable rebound story as a lesson for others who are currently suffering
IN THIS EPISODE
[01:01] What she is most passionate about
[02:13] Never wanting to retire
[02:39] Her childhood, her Greek heritage, her parents being entrepreneurs, childhood trauma
[08:07] Her first business venture
[10:59] Starting a Jewelry business, an armed robbery, a car accident involving her children and grandmother
[15:41] Building her travel agency business, strategic partnerships, the effect of 9/11 on her travel agency
[23:08] How she faces adversity, how COVID affected her travel agency
[30:18] How COVID lead to Heavenly Puffs, growing Heavenly Puffs, Doing the Super Bowl and the Grand Prix
Passionistas: Hi, and welcome to the Passionistas Project Podcast, where we talk with women who are following their passions to inspire you to do the same. We're Amy and Nancy Harrington and today we're talking with Tammy Levent a keynote speaker, business strategist, best-selling author and TV travel correspondent.
Tammy is the founder of Elite Travel, and award-winning national travel agency and the founder of It's My Bag, a nonprofit organization that donates suitcases to children in foster care. Tammy most recently launched Heavenly Puffs, a classic Greek dessert that are like donut holes with the policing crunchiness on the outside, and a unique fluffy, airy interior.
Having overcome many obstacles in her personal life and career, Tammy is on a mission to teach others that it's truly not what happens to you, but how you deal with your situation and move forward. She proudly shares her remarkable rebound story as a lesson for others who are currently suffering. So please welcome to the show, Tammy Levent.
Tammy: Thank you. Thank you. I enjoy being here.
Passionistas: What are you most passionate about?
Tammy: I'm passionate about the travel industry since I still own Elite Travel, but I also have a consulting business, which is Task, which I felt like people were stumbling over travel. Host agencies came in, they didn't know how to up, I'll travel for travel agents and online's ended up ruining a lot of businesses. So I ended up getting the consult business and that's doing amazing. We're sold out for this June in Cancun.
Everything I do. I think I'm passionate. I really can't single it out. I have the charity, it all ties into travel. I get suitcases for foster care kids. We've gotten over 20,000 suitcases now. And recently I have a manufacturer of suitcases that gives us their older versions or models of their suitcases.
[Honestly, they look the same. There's no difference, but I'll take the suitcases for the kids and they deliver probably 300 every other month to us brand new for kids. And they're in Canada and they ship them all the way to Florida for us on their dime. So it's great. And then of course my new adventure, [00:02:00] which has been crazy, it's a rollercoaster.
I mean, who would think of 58? I'm starting a new business. I would never think that this is time that you think about retiring.
Passionistas: That doesn't seem like a word that's in your vocabulary.
Tammy: No, it's not. My daughter does when you get to retire and I go, wait, what is that? I think I'm a control freak. So I don't think it's a matter of sitting back and doing nothing because even if I was to retire, I would find something to do.
I just can't do nothing. Like I know people that are retired that basically sit around the house to gardening and really don't do anything. If I did that, you just might as well bury me because it's not, it's not gonna work well for me.
Passionistas: We just talked about the end. Let's go back to the beginning. Tell us about your childhood, where you grew up and what your childhood was like.
Tammy: I grew up in New York. I am from immigrant parents. I think I heard about the war about at least 10,000 times growing up, my mom was a war baby. She went through world war two. She had [00:03:00] a baby brother that died in our arms at two years old from starvation. So took them two weeks to bury the baby. You know what I mean?
I heard these stories over and over again. My grandmother was a red cross volunteer, met my grandfather at a hospital because her husband. At the time was not my grandma's not my biological grandfather. He died during the Albania or so it seems like there was war after war, after war, back in those days.
And I listened to a lot of that. I learned to not to be frugal because they were very giving, but I learned to save money. I learned from a young age, you're not going to throw food out. Or make something else with it. Like my grandmother would have leftovers and now she made something else, completely else different with it.
And I know from my children do the same thing, but I know of my children's friends who just like, Oh, throw it out. I didn't grow up that way. That's like the worst thing you could possibly do. I hated it, but I learned fluid Greek. I know how to read it, write it, speak it. I was the first born here. So there was a lot that I had to sometimes translate for them.
And I was the only child my mother met my father. She was 15, he was a very famous singer. He was an actor. In fact, I found an old ticket of his not too long ago. And he was charging in 1957, $15 to go to his concert. So he was very famous. His songs are still played until today and, but he was 30 and she was 15.
That was normal back then. The sad part of it is he was very abusive. I found out later in life that he was a big a mess. He was already married in Greece with a family. They ended up coming here, met my two brothers and my half brothers and my half sister eventually. But what a way to, to find this out later on.
He was extremely emotionally and physically abusive with my mother. And with me later on, mostly not sexually abusive, which I'm very shocked about because he did rape my three-year-old niece. And ended up in jail for quite a long time in Greece. And that was not that long ago. Then he died about four years ago, but I stopped talking to them when I was 12, but I spent a lot of time with my grandmother.
My parents were entrepreneurs. They owned a smaller restaurant than a bigger restaurant, and they made so much money that they had property in the Hamptons. They had a bowling alley that had two other restaurants. They had yachts, but they didn't forget about me. I mean, they were still in my life, but it was like a part-time parents and full-time grandparents.
If that makes sense. I learned a lot from my grandmother. I mean, that's who pretty much raised me. And a lot of who I am today has a lot to do with her, instilling with me with a lot of things. When I was little, all my friends it's coming, I went to a private school to see my big fat Greek wedding. It's the same type of, you know, the mascot and the whole lunch thing.
And that's what I went to school with. But I, you know, how they talked about the Greek thing. It's exactly the same thing. Um, but I used to get teased a lot because I never was allowed to really wear pants. Don't in school, we wear dresses. I was different. I was not normal. There was something different about me.
I don't know what it was like. I think it's because my parents had so much money. I was raised differently when I would go with them to the restaurant. They wouldn't spend time with me, so they would send me upstairs. So the girls that were in charge of decorating the Macy's windows and Harold square, I mean, how lucky can you get right.
But I was little, I didn't understand now I get it. But I was with the sales team all day. It's like listening to Tony Robbins all day, but you're a child and you're listening to this and you're learning, I guess I was absorbing and then watching my parents work and work and work and work. And then they sent me away on vacation to Greece by myself.
When I was seven, I was the first child to ever cross international waters. Without an unaccompanied adult and not jury war, like for no reason. Okay. The kid's going on vacation by herself to Greece. Yeah, that itself. I remember it like, it was yesterday, it was very frightful, but I mean, that was my upbringing.
And then they moved to Florida and then I went from the straight private school to a school that I could do anything I wanted to. And I was just not used to that. My mom used to be a seamstress. So she used to sew on the side and by then they were divorced. Now my parents work and I used to find her vote patterns.
Like we're like really chic in New York and Paris, but not here in Florida, maybe two years later or something. So I used to wear the freakiest looking clothes to school, and I used to get always like, who is she? What is she, what does she do? And, and teased again. But I think I created that myself, but I didn't care.
I've always been a free spirit of do whatever you want and do what you feel is right and best and what makes you feel good? And I've been that way since a young girl. And, uh, I think that's, what's also developed me and made me who I am today because I pretty much do whatever I want and say what I want.
And it's gotten me to a lot of trouble sometimes, and maybe lost some deals along the way. But at the end it feels good. Like it was the right.
Passionistas: So what was your first business venture and how old were you?
Tammy: I had to lie about my age, going to my first job. I started working at probably 13 years old for my parents. And then I moved to New York when I was 16. I graduated when I was 16 and I graduation day, I told my mother I'm leaving for New York. She goes, where are you staying? I go, I don't know. I'll figure it out. When I get there. She's like, you can't just go to New York and figure it out when you get there. I'm like, why not?
So I go to New York and I went to a laundry mat. I remember back in the day, we didn't have cell phones. We didn't have computers. I had a sheet of paper on a wall. And it used to be strict with phone numbers, like maybe in your door or something like looking for a roommate or whatever, get that's how I found my roommate in the worst neighborhood, in New Jersey, in East orange, New Jersey.
Like, can it be any worse here? Anyway, and then I worked for my uncle a little bit, who was weird, um, but that wasn't too long and then six months working for him. And then I worked three jobs. What a surprise. I worked in two diners, working as a hostess at a rest in a waitress that was when I only have three hours sleep.
And then I worked for this shipping company and this shipping company was shipping overseas and needed only someone to speak Greek. That's all they wanted. Wow. That's not what they got. So I was fans, lady for them and it was that's where I met my husband, but he was my boss at the time. And I was 17, but I had a lie because there's going to hire me in 17.
So I told him I was 18 just to get in and get the job. And I was translating. And one day they left me there by myself. When people walked in and I said, Oh, I could sell you a refrigerator, washer, dryer, the whole kitchen, the whole apartment. I can do it myself. So I sold everything and they came back and they were like, wait, First thing I yelled at for, cause I'm supposed to only be the translator, like assistant.
I'm not supposed to be selling anything. Yeah. Oh, you're pretty good. Okay. So they kind of annoyed me because I found out that they didn't have any competition. I'm like, what world are we at? It's 17, but there's no competition. So I decided to go against my boss, go to him, his shipping company that he shipped with and asked them if I could create all new business.
Within their company as a first strategic partnership, no money with the appliances and say, I could speak Greek you're Greek. Why are you buying from him? He's taking away your customers. Why don't I come in and let me start my own division here with the appliances. And at the time I was 17. When I started the negotiations, it was December.
So it was like 17 and a half. By the time I was just turned 19. 19 years old in charge of all the appliances that they never even had before in that company.
Passionistas: That's incredible. And that's just the beginning of the story.
Tammy: The very beginning.
Passionistas: When you ultimately moved to Florida in 89, you opened a jewelry store.
Tammy: I moved to Florida because I was pregnant and I wanted to be near my mom. And you are my family. So, and the export business was slowing down because then it became open trade in Europe. So I ended up, we sold our portion of the company. We came down here. I had a lot of complications during my pregnancy on my daughter wants me to come out at six months and I was in the hospital probably for a good month and a half.
While I was in the hospital, my nurse was worrying like the biggest, most gigantic diamonds I've ever seen in my life. I'm like, are you sure you work as a nurse? And she's like, yeah, my husband owns a diamond company. I said, Oh, I don't want to know more about that since I was in the hospital for so long where I was, I came in to visit me.
And I said, Oh, I'm really intrigued. Maybe when I'm out of here, I'll open up a jewelry store. We opened up on Halloween day and then five years later, we had an armed robbery. They came in and they robbed and beat my ex-husband now, but, uh, pretty bad, 50 to 60 blows to his head to the point that it was very violent till he was brain damaged.
In fact, when I went into the hospital, I kept on telling him that that's not my husband. He was so disfigured that I couldn't even recognize him. And we lost everything. Everything at that point, the angel, the shore, everything that we got robbed, my kids were young. And then I started, then I went to work in a telemarketing company, total Loyola room.
When I tell you I worked for a company that was a boiler room every day, I thought that somebody was going to come in and I was going to get arrested. But at the time I didn't have a choice. I had to do whatever I had to do to support my family. My husband wasn't able to do anything. And I was working about 14 hours a day, seven days a week, selling fake trips.
And the police did come in about a year later, but it wasn't because of the business they came in and they asked for me, that was because we just found out that my grandmother was driving the car. She passed out at the wheel and my daughter, who was nine at the time. And my baby was two to control the car to save her brother.
And she turned the steering wheel and her grandmother. Died on the impact. They hit a brick wall going 45 miles an hour. And my grandmother's body when she turned the steering wheel to the right fell on top of Katie, my baby took off his seatbelt and jumped in the front seat to be with his sister and his grandmother, not knowing.
And he flew out of the windshield and he had an orbital eye fracture. They told me they didn't know if he could see my daughter's face, went into the air conditioning duct, and her mouth was open from screaming that the. Do you know where the vent is, where the AC is, that comes out. That blower went right into a ramp and completely severed her tongue and then cut all of the inside of her mouth.
And her kneecap was cut as well. They told me how fortunate I was, my grandmother died. So at the time, now you have to understand it's only about a year later. We have no money. My husband's still has brain damage. She never even came to the hospital. It's like, he was just in another world. My children were both in intensive care.
I didn't know how I was going to find them. I just prayed and said, just God given to me anyway, and we'll figure it out. Uh, we had the funeral to deal with that. I, I didn't know what to do. And I was working at this, the telemarketing place. We just moved into a bigger location and they just gave me a new position as Tammy the trainer.
To train all their 500 employees when I started with them, those 20, because I was the top sales person to train all their employees. And they gave me a whip, the pleather weapon. That's how the whole WHIP IT story starts. And I was sitting in the hospital, looking at this whip and all I could think about it was Easter week and Holy week.
And all I could think about is how Christ sustained all this torture. And I'm like, but I don't understand why. And I'm looking at this pleather little whip. And then I came up with incredible Women Having Infinite Power In Themselves. WHIP IT. My license plate says it. I have an avatar that says it. I would have it a lot that I do. I have a WhipIt.com. A lot stems from that.
And while I was in the hospital, my kids were in there for a while. A nurse came in and she said, if it had nothing to do with money, what would you do? So I would travel the world and she goes, that's your passion. That's what you need to do. I can't really say what I said, because as I said, yeah, I'm really going to pull in the money out of my, you know, what I will get out of?
Like, are you crazy? Do you understand that I lost everything? She gave me a newspaper the next day. And I found a job in outside sales built this guy's company, and then he retired. I took over and when I started my own, it was minus 180,000 and I built it over 180 million in travel business today, but just think it all started from.
That room in the hospital. So nothing is impossible. Nothing, nothing is impossible. I don't believe in problems. I believe in only solutions. I don't believe in “I need money” because I proved it over and over again, you could start a business without any money. I have an ebook. I think you guys downloaded it. I got a little message that you did. It gives you examples of how many strategic partnerships that I've done along the way.
Passionistas: How did you take it from nothing to what it is today?
Tammy: There's a lot of things that I did as first. And a lot of people don't know I'm going to share that with you. The worst thing that happened to me is that I decided to, I, I, I had his company, he told me to go around the block and get corporate accounts.
Like, let's say you have an insurance company and go and get that corporate room. Well, what's he going to do? What kind of travel was that going to be? So I really thought about where I should be in who I should be contacting. So my very first contact. Was Frito-Lay and PepsiCo, because I knew somebody who worked there and I ended up getting that account and we did the Herman lay award, which was half a million dollar budget account.
And I did this huge event for them and it went flawless and they loved me and it was great. Then the next account I got was like Ikon office solutions. You know, them from the copiers, they were around the corner, but I knew the girl there. So. I don't throw away people. In fact, I still have every business card that I've ever collected from day one that someone gave me, even from the time I'm in New York, it's a filing cabinet.
That's huge. I can't throw it out. Or any of the cards out. It's a really bad thing to have because I could use the space, but I feel like I'm throwing people out. And it's so funny to look at some of these because some of the numbers on them, even from New York still have letters. I mean, even back then, there were still using them in some of these businesses that were still using old cards that just a name and a phone number was no email.
There was nothing logos were like hardly anybody had logos, but I collect people. So join that sometimes when I need someone I'll look, look through it and say, Oh, well now it's used, I can Google that person and find them again, or search them on Facebook, what I need, you know? And I always built, I always say in strategic partnerships, you need to bring what you have to the table and what your assets are and what your attributes are to bring to the table.
And then you have to know what Amy's attributes are Nancy's are and what they could bring to the table. So what I wanted to spin off and leave my home. Cause I was working from home, which is so weird, isn't it like, that's where it all started. And here we are backing in is back to where it started. So leaving my home, I really wanted to leave and I needed a partner, but I didn't have money for an office.
I didn't have that kind of money. So I went ahead and started looking, where would I look? Where would I look to find somebody that's in the travel business? That's the top of their game. That would listen to me and say, I have 3 million and following I'd like to partner with you open up the Tampa Bay business journal.
And it had a book of list and it lists the top travel agencies in the entire area. The first one was like, Amex. Second one was like, AAA I'm like, okay, third one down was this company called Bay travel. And this is how the conversation went. I can't even make this up. Well, we travel. Yeah. Hi, this is Tammy Levent is the owner in that's Don Allen.
And, um, what did you need? I said, well, you tell him that I have $3 million in following that I'd like to bring to the table and partner with him. She goes, hold on place. And gone comes on the phone. He's like, what? I go, yes, I have a following of business. I'm willing to give you 30% of it. If you could just give me a home for my business, I don't need anything else from you.
That's all I need. Okay. Come in and talk. Within a week, I was there. So I was there for like two years and it was time for me to move on because as changes were made, I didn't pay rent. I didn't do anything game 30%. He did not want to conform with the changes. Does that make sense? Like we saw commissions were cut.
He didn't want to charge fees. He was only corporate corporate, corporate corporate. I was leisure, leisure, leisure. Cause I knew that leisure was more money. And I enjoy planning a trip for Nancy and Amy. I did not enjoy planning a trip for the guy who called me and see two way and said I wanted one a, I just did not do it for me.
You know what I mean? I hated it. So. I told him that I was leaving. I left on September 1st, 2001 with my own place, with everything really super excited had 22 employees moved into this place in Clearwater, but before 9/11. We had a really bad hurricane hit. And I came into the office to check up on it over the weekend after the hurricane, it I'm like, I'm good.
I'm in an office building the roof leaked. It was a flat roof. And all the ceiling tiles fell on every computer that we had, everything was like gone. Thank God I had insurance and it took a minute to get the claim done. But then of course, 9/11 happened all my new employees that were with me left.
They're like, okay, travel agencies are gone. And all the customers that I had, I was on the phone with each and every one of them saying, Hey, it's $200 deposit. Really gonna make a difference if he canceled today, if you wait 30 days in 30 days, if you still want to cancel, we'll go ahead and we'll refund you the money because to break a habit.
Or to make a change or to forget something will take about 30 days. So I knew this and going in with it, and that's why I was like playing psychiatrist with all these people, not to cancel their trip that I saved each and every person.
And at the time that that happened was also something we markable right before then sandals was doing their, their wedding. But nobody in as a travel agency was selling destination weddings. I was the first to do that. So my business has soared from $300,000 a year, let's say at leisure bookings to like 3 million in one year doing destination weddings. And that same year I was writing for AOL wedding I'll dash for the, not for brides.com.
They had all these forums that I was speaking in, and I was getting so much business because I was the guru of destination weddings. So I started that and we really built that. So we had that going to all these weddings. Now I want to cancel. I'm like, just wait, just wait. There was only one person, only one that actually canceled.
So, but then we stuck with it with a little team that we had and we just kept plugging away. The first thing that I did was get an equity line on my home to make sure that all my employees were getting money. And then I just started calling all my creditors and said, Hey, this is what's going on. Can you work with us?
And everybody did at the time, not like now they don't care. You know, it was a little different, you could discuss things and talk things then. But what happened to me a 9/11 is what saved me today during COVID. I knew exactly what to do the minute I heard. You have to train your brain to think the way that I do.
I don't think I was born with this. I think I've trained myself through these years. What to do in a crisis, how to overcome it. Like I was watching the list the other day and it says, Oh, it seemed that most Americans now are saving money and they're frugal. And the things that were important to them back then were not important.
Now you should've been doing that from day one, maybe because my grandmother told me this, like during the war, what's important. What's not important. A label is not important. We all like it. Yeah. Like my Louis Vuitton purse. But do I have to go out and get a hundred of them? I don't think it's that important.
It's certain things, certainly criteria, certain, certain things are in our lives that we don't need. At the end of the day, when we're gone, we want to leave a legacy. We want to leave something, invest back into yourself because that's what you have. And that's the only thing that you have is your own.
Passionistas: We're Amy and Nancy Harrington and you're listening to the Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Tammy Levent. To learn more about her delicious Greek dessert visit HeavenlyPuffs.com. Now here's more of our interview with Tammy.
You have a problem, something happens to you. What's your initial reaction is your initial reaction to go to the place of, okay. What do I do? Or do you have like a period of time where you kind of let it wash over you?
Tammy: My kids were tragic. I didn't have time to think I had a funeral. The husband, no money, everything got thrown at me. And the first thing that was the most important was what the kids. Right. We have to get them better.
And then I evaluate, evaluate everything, but everything is on a notepad. Everything is written down of the process of what I'm going to do next. And everything is a process of here's the problem. Here's a solution. Even if you write it down, what's the problem. What's the solution. What is the potential problem? How can I resolve this problem before it becomes a problem? What is the potential problem?
I mean, if you want me to give you an example of what happened with COVID and the travel agency, So I went and got my award in New York in February, and things were strange in New York. They were just weird. When I tell you weird, it was like, what's going on?
And you shoes. There's like, no people here. I think New York knew before anybody else does. That makes sense. I think they were talking about it, but no one knew anything yet because it was just bizarre. I felt like I was walking. In a black hole, like everywhere, we went, restaurants weren't going on. There was no mask to wear, but I went to this event and every year this event is like sold out, but there was like half sold out.
I came back to my room. Then I went to DC to another event that was even worse, like what's going on. So after that I went to Chicago, that's when it hit. So from February, when I went to these events to be was the end of February. Now I'm in Chicago, I'm with my son and his 8,000 square foot home is a little sheltered as little bubble.
We put on the TV and they're talking about the Corona virus pandemic, and I'm watching Cuomo and I'm watching this. My son goes, there's a bunch of bullshit that listen, and I have the millennials going to talk to me, right. I'm like, yeah, you believe what you want. I don't care if it's government controlled aliens came down, China gave it to us.
Whatever happened, this is not going away. So you have to have a plan, Jordan, how plan? Because this is going to go down. He's like, what do you mean, mom? I said, just like anything else, this is a war on us in a different way. Listening to my grandmother. We go back again. So what I did was I took my pen and paper and I said, okay, the first thing I have to do is I got to call my creditors, find out what they're doing.
The second thing I have to do is call my, lease my car payments and extend them and put a hold on car payments for three months. Next thing I have to do is call my mortgage, see if I can refinance. And now I have so much equity in my house seat, not take out all the equity to take out half the equity. So at least I can live off of that for a year if I needed to.
Next thing I have to do is call all my clients before they call me, be proactive, tell them that we're going to hold onto everything, move everything for a year and hold onto their payments. May try to get any cancellations where due. I learned that from nine 11. The next thing I have to do is call the IRS.
Cause I have a forever mortgage with them. So I have to call the IRS and tell them they're not getting their 2000 a month that they're going to get $25 a month. That went over very bizarre, which I called him. And I go, I know that I paid 2000 a month, but we're only gonna pay you 25 a month. And he goes, excuse me.
I go, yeah, go to your supervisor is COVID I don't have any money. He just COVID hasn't hit yet. I go, it will. I'm telling you right now. So make your $25. He goes, he came back. He goes, wow. My supervisor said, you'll give you $25 for two years. I go, okay. Sounds good. So we got that taken care of. I called all my cars, three cars that we have for all three companies.
Every one of them gave me three months that I didn't have to pay for it. Well, that's 1500, 1600 a month times three. Save that money. First thing I did the minute that SBA opened the mid, that opened midnight, have my alarm. First thing I did was filed for the SBA loan, got approved, got way more than I even thought that I would got the PPP down the same way and then follow it up with those.
I also got a twenty-five thousand dollars grant. Got the house refinanced. Guess what? They're not doing it now. They're not giving any loans out anymore. You can't even get a loan if you want it. Or if I now got the house refinanced, put my husband on it, he wasn't on it before and said to him, I'm slapping 30 years.
I know that only had 10 years on the house. I don't give a crap about the house. Here's 30 years. You can pay it off. Whatever happens, lived in it all my life. I really don't care. Got the money out of it. It's yours when I'm gone. I really don't care. So I got that all taken care of, talk to all my suppliers, try to figure out what we were going to do, how things were going.
And then the last thing that this is all, while I'm in Chicago. In one day, I got all the stuff from winning tonight because I was making my list the most important things to halt on all my credit cards. You're not charging any more. Tammy, first thing I did, then the second thing is that I opened up new accounts.
I had savings account and escrow account to put all my customers money in an escrow account. Make sure that's not touched. Did all that and make sure all that's taken care of. I did that when I got back. But the next thing that I did was I said to my son, I have to leave tomorrow. He's like why? I said, because they're going to shut the airport.
No, they're not. They're not. I said, the next thing they're going to do is shut down, Chicago. No, they're not. I'm like, okay. You're just remember. Remember my words. I leave the next day. Ghost town in Chicago airport. Following day, they shut down the airports. What happened a week later, everything was shut down.
So that is being proactive and knowing what to do, I guarantee you, 90% of America is going to know what to do. Next time. Something happens. And if you don't live through it, you're not going to go through it. Somebody could be telling you over and over again. I think my grandmother told me enough everyday how poor they were and they had, they didn't have any food that I listened to it so much that the first thing that came we're going to get any food.
And then you go to the grocery store, right? Any toilet paper? I, this is a little bizarre, craziest part of the whole that story. I did. One more thing that others thought about too late and couldn't do it was too late. I said, people aren't going to have jobs. I need to figure out travel's going to be halted.
I travel consulting is going to be halted and that's all I had at the time. I have the food truck, but no one is going to do events. Right. So that was halted. I said, I need to find a job. That's idiot proof that I could do that will always be needed, that I can get it now, before everybody else bombards it.
So I signed up for Instacart. And I got in with Instacart and they don't hire anymore. And I got in with them. So I'm in grandfather now. So if I want to do is to card today for a little bit, I could do it. And since everyone was quarantine, the first month I worked Instacart was in April for the whole month of April.
I made $6,000 doing Instacart. I was exhausted. Like I couldn't move. I started like so early in the morning until seven days a week. And then my husband started doing it by now. They don't even let you let anyone in anymore, but, but I'm grandfathered in God forbid that happens. So there's another, you know, fate, you're gonna lose your job. You're gonna lose your income. Think of it another way. Never went on unemployment. Never did it.
Passionistas: How did all of this lead to Heavenly Puffs?
Tammy: When we first started Puffs about a year and a half ago, I was invited to do a New Year's Eve party at someone's restaurant with the food truck, because that's all we had was the food truck. And we wanted to do something as a side business. Warren Buffett said that if you don't have 51 different streams of income, you're going to go bankrupt. I was like, Oh, my God. I only have two more now. So I said, let's do a food truck. My mother goes, let's get in real estate. I can always get you a food truck because what do you wanna do a food truck for?
I said, because this way we can meet people on the weekends and maybe I can get some more travel business, like register to win a free trip or something like that. So let's just work on the weekends for festivals and we'll be fine. It'll give us something to do. Like we have nothing else to do, right. So we go ahead and we started doing festivals and we were booked every weekend.
Every weekend, we're making 3000, $4,000 every weekend that New Year's Eve, we were at this guy's restaurant and people were coming up ordering these puffs, which are so delicious and greet their local mothers to one of the oldest desserts in the world. It was created seven 66 BC from a Sicilian. They gave it to the Greeks for the first Olympics and only given to the winners.
That's it. No one else could have them. So it's really crunchy on the outside and a really light and airy on the inside. So it's almost like a vignette. It's almost like a doughnut funnel cake. It's so amazing. We drizzle honey and cinnamon a little bit though. So we were doing it and we did that event, but now people are drunk.
This is what they're doing. $20 round here. I'll have an order of pops. There were only $5, but I get $20 because they're drunk and it's new. Year's, everyone's happy. $50, $20 when gave me a hundred dollars for two orders. I'm like, can you guys do this? Like every night at this place? At the end of the night, the owner of the place was a little tipsy and he goes to me, Hey, it's four in the morning.
I want to get home. He's still partying. The place looks coyote ugly. It's like champagne everywhere, food everywhere, napkins everywhere, the old Greek guy, he says, I'm going to give you an idea. If you can make these frozen. You just tell them to a food service and to supermarkets. And we would buy them because we don't make them.
Cause it takes three hours to make. And then some people don't order them. Then we have to throw them out. I go, you would tell me that no one has these frozen. And he's like, no, for real, he's like, yeah, I go, okay, year and a half later we have COVID what did I tell you about throwing away people where people say.
Listen, the problem with this world is no one listens. Listen to it. Half the time this media, this whole thing with bias is going to do this. Trump's going to do that, blah, blah, blah, is people don't listen to the entire conversation. They take one excerpt and that's the way things are going to go. Listen, Google learn.
So it may, I'm sitting hold. We can't do Instacart because now they're, I mean, we are, but not really. Cause people are saying, just drop it off at the door. We're not even making the tips anymore because people are going broke. So I decided to go ahead and. Just say home and figure out what I'm going to do.
Okay. I'm making my list of things that I could do. So you're looking for this work, that work. I said, no, I can't work for someone. It's not going to happen. I go home. Maybe I should try making these little pops frozen. Like he said, it's not a bad idea. I've time right now. Nothing else to do. So I would start with the truck, go in there every day.
I was making five to 700 of them and throwing them out. They were not coming out. Right. I go, no wonder no one in bed did this. Cause it's stupid. They're coming out like silver dollar pancakes. I would take them. I would cook though. Halfway put them in the freezer, excited to get up in the morning to look and see.
And my little round ball was like, It was like flat out, like, no, he can't look like that. So I practice and did it over and over. My husband was helping me like the first week. And after that, he's like, why do they know what's invented it? You know how my mother's whatever. So I was stuck there doing it myself.
I was determined to get it done. And then the chemistry came from school. Uh, everything is temperature, temperature. Let me start using temperature control and temperature. That's the temperature of that. And the yeast I started researching and reading, I could write a book about yeast right now. I read everything there was about use.
I got rid of the instant yeast that I was using. I got rid of the other yeast that I was using, and I started making my own yeast and using the real old fashioned like grandma used to make use of. What a difference. Anyway, so I did that. They made it opened up the freezer. It was still around ball. I'm like, Hey, so I started frying up my oil.
I said, I'm going to defrost them. Cause I don't want to put them in there frozen. And now I'm going to see what happens when I cook them. I put them in the fryer. I tried it. I go with that. It's tastes like I just made it like from scratch on believable. Let's see what happens when I leave it in there for two weeks.
So now we're looking at the end of May, about their beginning of June. Sure enough, they were perfect. I take them June first take my little bag of frozen bag. Go to the guy who said you should embedded them. I said, I want you to try these. I went to the chefs that do not tell them what they are cooked in them back, watered in the front.
He says, Tammy brought these over. Oh yeah. She makes them amazing. Well, thank you. I said try them because I've had them before I go try them now. So he tries no disease. You're super good. Just like you make her the best. And I go, huh? They've been frozen for two weeks. He goes no way. And I go, yeah, he goes, you need to get a package.
This, you do that. I know nothing about food service. I was thrown to the wolves, but I had time and I had COVID on my side. He was the first restaurant to get it. Then I went to another one and another one and another one before you. No it, and I have, I built a sales team. Then I, then somebody from food service called goes, I've been in the business 40 years.
What you have is amazing. You're the only one in the world with this. I want to help you. He comes and helps me. He's a consultant. He turns 300 an hour helps me for free. Helps me get distribution. Now this week. Just today. They got it. Yeah. Where a supermarket in Canada wanted five pallets. They just got their sample today at a clear customs and at 500 supermarkets.
This is only since June that it got created, but we didn't get it. We were testing it out here or there. And then I got my manufacturing license in September and then got asked to be in the Super Bowl experience because I can't make these in the food truck anymore. So I partnered. With a catering company.
Cause I knew that they're deader than dead and I can't use the space in a restaurant. It's not enough room for me. So I partnered with Delectables, find catering, what do I do again? Another strategic partnership, pay them very little rent. Every time I had an interview, make sure that I included them, but she had a way to get into the Super Bowl because she did it every time it was in Tampa.
So she got me into the Super Bowl. And we were in front of 35,000 people a day. Like I was blown away. I was there going, is this for real? Like, it keeps on pinching myself. Like I just created this just a couple months ago. And here I am at the Super Bowl experience. And today I have a letter of, this is my first announcement.
You guys want the first news ready? We just got invited to do the Grand Prix today. We, I just can't believe we will be honored if you were participating in partaking with your heavenly puffs of the Grand Prix. So we went from starting it from zero money, nothing to, I don't even know where we are right now, to be honest with you.
All I know is that we just keep growing every day. I mean, I have like six employees now, and now we're looking for a bigger space. We already outgrew that and now they want us to stay there and they're trying to work away that we could still stay there and build a bigger place within the place. We're trying to figure all this out now. Like we need to figure out something.
Passionistas: So what's your definition of success?
Tammy: So funny, cause I have something on my wall and I live by it and it doesn't matter how much money you have, what you have. There's [00:38:00] one thing, integrity. It's something that my grandmother instilled in me. Definitely integrity, no matter what you do or how poor you are, no matter how rich you are, you always have to have that integrity of how you treat others, how you're treated and how you live your life.
Passionistas: Thanks for listening to our interview with Tammy Levent. To learn more about her delicious Greek dessert visit HeavenlyPuffs.com. Please visit ThePassionistasProject.com to learn more about our podcast and subscription box filled with products made by women owned businesses and female artisans to inspire you to follow your passions. Sign up for our mailing list to get 10% off your first purchase, and be sure to subscribe to The Passionistas Project Podcast so you don't miss any of our upcoming inspiring guests. Until next time, stay well and stay passionate.