The Helm

Lifestyle

Airport Food Will No Longer Suck. We Have Her to Thank.

Annabel Lawee's battle with Celiac's disease led to a game-changing idea: Make airport food not suck. This month, that idea becomes a reality as healthy and wholesome on-demand options launch at LAX. Next stop: Airports nationwide.

Anna Jornlid

The Helm: What is Breeze?

Annabel Lawee: Breeze is an on-demand food service for airport travelers. We’re on a mission to provide convenient access to real, wholesome food at airports. Breeze’s menu speaks the language of the modern traveler, featuring made-from-scratch meals like smashed avocado toast, coconut yogurt parfaits, açai jars, warm grain bowls and chicken zucchini noodle salads.

We’re launching at LAX Terminal 2 later this month, and we’re incredibly excited to finally see it come to life.

The Helm: What inspired you to start it?

Annabel Lawee: I was traveling a lot for my job and I have Celiac’s disease so I could never eat anything at the airport. So, I started to ask my friends if this was just my experience because of my celiac, or if it was a universal pain point—and I found it to be the latter. No one says I love airport or plane food.

After that, I started Breeze as a side hustle. I went on LinkedIn and asked airport execs for 20 minutes of their time, asking questions about how the airport industry works. I started to build the business model from there. I quit my job on October 27th of 2018, and I raised about $1.5M on a pitch deck that literally said “airport food sucks.” Here we are—almost exactly a year later—launching in our first airport.

The Helm: What did that initial funding process look like?

Annabel Lawee: I think a lot of founders know their first investors beforehand, but for me, it was all completely new. I had some early people that came on board, but the second I got what you could call my first “brand name investor,” it spiraled from there.

I honestly have to say that I had an amazing experience fundraising. We went to a lot of angel investors, so I had the chance to meet operators and founders who have created amazing companies. To learn from them has been an incredible experience.

The Helm: What unexpected challenges have you had to overcome with launching Breeze?

Annabel Lawee: The airport industry is very close-knit and traditional, so from the start, I’ve tried to stand out and make relationships in order to break the norm. I went to this airport conference in Las Vegas before we knew what airport we’d be launching at, and I made a point to wear a bright yellow blazer. People were like “who’s that, she’s new here,” because it’s a group where everyone knows everyone. Through that, I started to make a lot of really great relationships, and the relationships I made ultimately led us to LAX.

The biggest learning is that it’s all about relationships, it doesn’t matter if you’re fundraising or trying to do partnerships or get into a new industry, your focus should always be on building great relationships.

I also think one of my biggest strengths is being vulnerable. I’ve been open and authentic in talking about my challenges and the things I don’t know, and put myself in situations outside of my comfort zone. A lot of the time listening to founders in podcasts, like How I Built This, they skim over the hardships of running a company, like the challenges of finding a co-founder or how you get from two to five employees. I’ve found that by being open about my challenges, and sharing all of the things that did and didn’t go wrong, people tend to share more on their end, as well.

"I raised about $1.5M on a pitch deck that literally said 'airport food sucks.' "

The Helm: What do you wish someone had told you before starting your own company?

Annabel Lawee: What I wish I knew at the beginning, which I learned the hard way, is that being a founder is a mental game. Just like you go to the gym and exercise your muscles, you need to exercise your mind every day. Beyond meditation and “self-care,” it’s about how to reduce your inner critic and build confidence. I was concerned about all the other voices around me, rather than just taking time with myself to understand what I’m good at and how I could utilize that to my advantage. When I quit my job, I got a life coach. I only had him for three months because I couldn’t afford him after that given I wasn’t taking a salary, but he really started to instill these practices in me; setting up my day and framing it based on what I wanted to achieve, how I wanted to feel after I achieved them, what am I grateful for. Like the fact that I can move my arms, the fact that I can go work out today, the fact that I have the opportunity to build this company even though I’m not taking a salary. It’s something I started to get behind from an early stage. You need to get your mind on your side because otherwise, you’re only going to hear the critics.

Also, talk to everyone! You never know who you’re going to meet. I was on a plane last week, and I spoke with this woman who happened to be a travel agent for celebrities and influencers, and we’ve been talking every day since then. You really never know who you’ll meet, and you have nothing to lose. What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen in starting a conversation with someone?

"You need to get your mind on your side because otherwise, you’re only going to hear the critics."

The Helm: Looking back, is there anything you wish you invested more in?

Annabel Lawee: Honestly, we’ve been super lean. I just started taking a salary two months ago, which is very exciting. The only thing we spent money on was the technology crucial to the business. When we got proposals for design and branding for over $100k plus equity I just felt like we didn’t need that yet. I want to launch first and understand the data, understand what consumers resonate with, and what they love about our product. For now, we’ve found a great branding team that, in a freelance capacity, is excited and passionate to help bring Breeze to life.

The Helm:
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made so far?

Annabel Lawee: Not believing that I could do this myself. I had an experience where, instead of leading with “I need a COO” or a CTO, I lead with “I need a co-founder.” When I was fundraising, people kept telling me I needed one, so that was ingrained in me from the beginning. Like I mentioned earlier, when you’re not confident and you’re listening to external cues, you don’t have anything within you saying “No, I can do that.” You listen to all of the external stuff, and I had two experiences where that back-fired: I invested a ton of time and emotion in getting co-founders up to speed only for them to realize that this sort of unconventional founder journey is not the life they wanted to lead. That process took a lot of my energy, and I should’ve just believed in myself. I’ve gotten this far—raised the money and formed the ideas, the foundation, and the relationships. I can’t say I regret anything because it made me a stronger and more resilient person, but I wish I would’ve believed in myself from the beginning.

"A lot of the time listening to founders in podcasts, like How I Built This, they skim over the hardships of running a company."

The Helm: What kind of a leader are you?

Annabel Lawee: I’ve never tried to be the smartest person in the room. I don’t want to be with people who I feel like I’m smarter than. I want to be around people who will teach me things. I want to learn. I value feedback; it’s all a collaborative process. I have the best COO, Christina DiLaura. She’s older than me, has more experience, and teaches me new things every day. I always want that to be the case. So I think I am a collaborative leader—I know the times when I have to step up and have the final say, but I also know the times when I need other’s opinions to shape the growth of the company.

The Helm: What’s a bad habit you’ve had to break on your entrepreneurial journey?

Annabel Lawee: I need to learn how to make decisions faster. I’ll spend way too much time on the small things that make virtually no difference, like booking flights whenever I’m going back to LA—it’s not important, you can change it. The bigger things when you can’t, and shouldn’t, make decisions fast: gather all the data you need, speak to your investors, speak to your team. But the small things that aren’t that important? Just make the decision and move on; check it off the list.

The Helm: What’s your best productivity hack?

Annabel Lawee: I pause my inbox, so that I’m not distracted and reactive to emails coming in. As a founder, there’s always a fire to put out, but you have to be patient and trust the process. It’s all going to be okay in the end, and the journey is ultimately what will shape how you’re going to grow.

The Helm: What is a thing that you’ve flat out failed at?

Annabel Lawee: We initially said we were going to launch at San Jose airport, which we didn’t. It was out of my control, but still. However, for all of the failings, there’s always been a silver lining—we have incredible partners at LAX.

The Helm: What’s the biggest obstacle that you’re up against right now?

Annabel Lawee: Airports. Breaking down the traditions, getting past how they’ve done things in the past, and instilling how we can change things going forward. At first, I was trying to reinvent the wheel, but I’ve realized that I need to use existing infrastructure and partners in the airports to align everyone’s incentives.

The Helm: Where do you look for inspiration?

Annabel Lawee: Starting out, I talked to successful people in tech, showed them the deck, and took in their feedback. I used to watch Youtube videos to understand how valuations work (typing in “safe note” or “valuation cap” and watching everything I could find) because I really didn’t understand it for so long. Now, I also get inspiration from podcasts, like How I Built This and Masters of Scale, where you hear about companies’ backstories. Like Sarah Blakely from Spanx—everything about her, her hustle, the calls she made, and just being truly unapologetic, is so inspiring to me. I have also surrounded myself with amazing female founders in similar stages, who inspire me every day with their drive, determination and passion.

"The people who say 'I’m not ready to jump' or 'I can’t do it yet'—just fucking do it."

The Helm: What would you say to individuals thinking about making the entrepreneurial leap?

Annabel Lawee: The people who say ”I’m not ready to jump” or “I can’t do it yet”—just fucking do it. I have grown so much as a person, personally and professionally, and the possibilities for growth are endless. So, to all the people staying in their jobs and grinding away: Yes, it’s so hard, and so stressful, but by being a founder, you also have the opportunity to create something and make a difference. It’s a privilege.

Invest in a woman. Follow @flywithbreeze to stay in the loop on launch and other airport openings.

Meet the Founder

Founder

Annabel Lawee

Company

Breeze

Mission

To provide all airport travelers convenient access to real, wholesome food.

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