Meet Anouck Gotlib, the visionary CEO behind Belgian Boys, a food company that adds a delightful European twist to whole ingredient foods, allowing families to prepare less, smile more, and indulge better.
The story of Belgian Boys traces back to Anouck's husband's college days when he would bring home suitcases filled with European treats for his American friends. However, upon relocating to New York City, the cherished flavors of his childhood seemed to have vanished. It was at this point that the seeds of Belgian Boys were sown—an endeavor to bring the authentic taste of European cuisine to the American market. Balancing her daytime role in the fashion industry, Anouck dedicated her evenings to Belgian Boys by conceptualizing the logo, branding, packaging, and more. Eventually, her passion for the venture led her to leave her fashion career behind and commit to Belgian Boys as its CEO.
In our conversation with Anouck, we explored the captivating founding story of Belgian Boys, how practicing mindfulness brings joy to her entrepreneurial journey, and what she would tell her younger self if she were to start her entrepreneurial journey over again.
Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding. How and why did you start working on Belgian Boys?
A: Our business started from a suitcase. Before I knew him, my husband Greg Galel came from Belgium to the U.S. for college. Whenever he would fly back to school, he would bring a whole suitcase of treats to share with friends. He has always been an entrepreneur. After graduating college, he tried another business idea or two before launching Belgian Boys based on the memory of how much his American friends loved Belgian treats. It was his vision and courage that is the reason our company exists!
When we launched Belgian Boys, I was working on 42nd Street and Fashion Ave during the day and helping Greg with the logo, branding, and packaging at night. I like to joke that I was “dressing” the products. After a few months, I felt so much more passionate about the work building Belgian Boys than the job in fashion that I quit and started working on Belgian Boys full time.
Q: What makes Belgian Boys different from other, similar companies?
A: It’s easy to call Belgian Boys a food company, but we consider ourselves a happiness brand. Our tagline is “Happiness Baked In,” which feeds into everything we do—from our nostalgic recipes, to our whimsical, colorful packaging that radiates happiness on-shelf, to our once-a-week team meeting focused on personal growth, positivity, and happiness. We're passionate about creating joy for our customers and spreading sweetness in people's lives, and we let that inform every decision we make.
Q: Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
A: Before I was an entrepreneur, I studied fashion design before working at fashion houses including Zac Posen in New York and Natan in Belgium. I worked tirelessly during those days and learned a lot that informed how I would later run a business. I found fashion to be very competitive and quite a toxic industry with little respect for those working hard at the bottom. Now at Belgian Boys, I work to ensure that our whole team feels respected, rewarded, and included in driving the business forward.
Q: Have you ever felt like you’re “different”? If yes, in what ways has this contributed to your journey as an entrepreneur?
A: I always feel like a bit of an outsider because of my fashion background. Unlike a lot of other CEOs, I have no business background and I’m learning a lot on the job. This has made me feel quite a bit of imposter syndrome over the years, but more recently I have gained an appreciation for the fact that this allows me to do things differently. I see things differently and have to be more creative because I don’t know the playbook.
Q: What’s been the most unexpected part of your entrepreneurial journey?
A: A few years ago, I thought coaching was a waste of time. I couldn’t imagine ever needing or wanting to sit down with someone and talk about my challenges at work. In August 2020, months into a pandemic of unexpected hit after hit to us and to our business, I was buried by uncertainty and anxiety. I wasn't able to see beyond the stresses of each day. I was at the brink of serious burnout and one Sunday morning, my brother tricked us into a mindfulness session with a coach who specializes in leading with mindfulness in the corporate setting.
That session changed my life. I realized that I was so immersed in the business and couldn’t even see what was around. Mindfulness coaching has become my Monday morning ritual. I can't start the week without that session with my coach and the practice that follows throughout the week. It has brought positivity, happiness, and purpose to my life. Through mindfulness, I’m present and look forward to the joys of the journey.
Q: Have you felt like giving up? What made you persist?
A: Since our launch, we have been trying to get retailers to merchandise our breakfast products near refrigerated staples. There were only naysayers in the beginning—buyers at all types of stores from specialty to mass that kept telling us Americans only buy their breakfast baked goods in the frozen aisle. They didn’t want to take the risk of giving away shelf space of guaranteed-movers like eggs and yogurt. Plus frozen breakfast was its own strong category that all of our retail partners insisted we belonged in.
We persisted because, in our gut, we knew this was something we had to try, even if it would take time. We did place our breakfast products in the frozen aisle at first while we kept pitching refrigerated—we knew we had to find those first retailers that would give us a chance to prove it.
We finally got our chance with a test in Costco in 2018, and a second test in 65 Walmart stores. After an initial strong performance at these retailers, we decided to double down on this approach. In 2022, we really hit our stride, pioneering a new in-store breakfast destination in the refrigerated section at over 3,000 points of distribution in refrigerated breakfast—and growing!
Q: Has your definition of success evolved throughout your journey as a founder?
A: I used to view success as a finish line but reading Simon Sinek’s book “The Infinite Game” had a huge impact on me. Now, I see success as the satisfaction of fitting together complex pieces of a puzzle. I may be excited for a few minutes when we have a small hit of accomplishment, but am more grateful and constantly learning from the journey we are on. Being an entrepreneur, I am forced to deal with new challenges and setbacks daily, and turning them into opportunities is where I see the light. Problem solving and turning the worst situation into a winning moment is what drives us at Belgian Boys and makes me feel success along the journey.
Q: How have you grown as a leader since starting Belgian Boys? What experiences have contributed to this growth?
A: There are a few huge things that might not feel so huge from the outside. One of the biggest has been getting comfortable being uncomfortable—learning that moments of absolute uncertainty and challenge are going to shake things up and maybe even lead to something better. Part of that has been learning to find joy in the hard times. The entrepreneurial journey has a lot of ups and downs, but having the mindfulness to enjoy the good days and bad has been game-changing for me.
Raising outside capital for the first time was a brutal nine-month process. I was supposed to close after three months, but between the no’s and the people who weren’t aligned with the brand we’re trying to build, it really dragged on. We were really committed to finding people who shared our vision, but during this period I was challenged to be present and take things as they came. Each time something didn’t work out, I was at risk of entering overthinking mode. My mindfulness coach, who I have worked with since 2020, encouraged me to accept and move on, to know that the challenge was only temporary. Now on the other side, I am so grateful we were picky, because we are surrounded by amazing investors that help set us up for success.
Q: What would you tell your younger self if you were to start your entrepreneurial journey all over again?
A: I wish I had known that a successful early career is one where you are learning—who you are, what excites you about your work, what role you can play, and who inspires you. I was so focused on “making it” as a destination, but I would encourage my younger self to think about the daily work of making my career. Mindfulness has helped me take my career day by day—learning and facing new challenges as they come. It’s all about the journey, and so far, I’m enjoying the journey that I’m on.