The first time Lizzie Marie Likness heard herself compared to a celebrity chef, she was a 7-year-old wearing a costume for Halloween. "This lady was like, 'You look just like Rachael Ray. You're going to be the next Rachael Ray,'" Likness recalls. Those words stuck with her. But today, she isn't just playing dress-up.
At age 11, Likness has turned a love of healthful cooking into Lizzie Marie Cuisine, a successful website featuring videos, recipes and blogs to help kids eat healthier, and corporate projects, such as "Healthy Cooking with Chef Lizzie," an online TV show for WebMD. Next on her branding agenda? A cookbook and dreams of a cookware line. At this rate, she's on track to oversee a cooking empire by the time she hits her teens.
For this young entrepreneur, pursuing her passion has always helped lead the way for her business. A little advice from Rachael Ray herself certainly doesn't hurt either.
At what age did you first fall in love with cooking?
I started cooking when I was about 2 years old. My mom and grandmother taught me how to cook. My mom would take me into the kitchen and put me on the counter, and I’d be her taste tester. If she was making soup or apple sauce, I’d stir the pot, add spices.
Then, at 6 years old, I got interested in horseback riding. I asked my parents if I could take lessons if I paid for them myself. When they asked how I would do that, I suggested selling homemade baked goods at a local farmers market. I did that for about a year and half, and that’s when I realized I liked cooking and showing people that healthy foods can be really fun and delicious.
When did you start realizing this might go beyond just funding your horseback-riding lessons and that it could be an actual business?
I never thought I would ever actually build a business out of just selling my apple dapple bread and chocolate chip cookies at the local farmers market. It was just something I was doing so I could pursue another passion I had in life. But once I started realizing how much people enjoyed my cooking and how much I enjoyed getting up early in the morning and baking and seeing people’s faces once they tried my food, that's when I wanted to take it to the next level. I asked my dad to make me a website. And we did the first video and posted it on YouTube. I was nervous. A lot of people were supportive and helpful, while some people didn’t think a young person should be in the kitchen cooking. That's their opinion. I love what I’m doing and it’s allowed me to do so many incredible things. I'm just kind of going with the flow and enjoying it and seeing where it takes me.
What were some of the initial reactions from customers?
A lot of people were surprised at how young I was, because they didn’t think a 6-year-old could be in the kitchen, baking breads and cookies. Once they got over that, they were pleasantly surprised and said the food was good and healthy. A lot of people are also skeptical at first because my recipes are creative and use interesting ingredients, but once they taste them, they realize healthy foods don't have to be boring -- they can be yummy and exciting.
Was your business also inspired by your parents’ combined 100-pound weight loss?
When my parents lost their weight, I was probably like 2 or 3, so I didn't really take notice. My dad had a healthy-living business, and when I was older and started to learn more about why he had the business, I realized it was a pretty big deal to have a combined weight loss of 100 pounds. It was inspirational. It helped spark my interest. I thought if my parents could do it, anybody could do it.
My dad particularly helped me a lot with the business aspect. Mom and I would brainstorm over how we could take regular recipes that every kid knows and make them healthier and more exciting.
My parents have always been really supportive of me. When I was interested in tennis, they'd make sure I worked hard on it so I could be the best I was. No matter how old you are, it’s going to be hard to start your own business. You definitely need advice, and parents are some of the only people who can tell you this stuff. You shouldn't be afraid to ask them for help, take whatever advice they give you, tell them what you really like to do and show them how much it means to you. They’ll see this is something you want to pursue and be open to the idea of helping you start your own business and seeing where it takes you.
How did the WebMD opportunity come up?
WebMD came to me. They were creating a Web show geared toward kids, teaching them how healthy eating could be really fun and how they could get involved in doing that. It was really cool because the first chef they thought of was Jamie Oliver, but he wasn’t available because he was doing Food Revolution. And the next person they thought of was me, which I was very flattered by. It was a fun experience -- they flew me to New York last December and I was there for about week filming. It was hard work but really fun, and I would love to do something like that again.
Is that when you realized you really could be the next Rachael Ray?
It’s cool how she has her own talk show, and I think she is a really great chef and she has so much energy and loves what she’s doing so much. I would definitely love to have the same opportunities she does and have my own talk show or cooking show one day. She's definitely a person I look up to, and I really respect her.
What was it like meeting her on her show as a contestant for the Kindness Challenge?
I was not nervous before at all. I was nervous when I actually got out there and realized I was on Rachael Ray. But it was so fun and a really great experience. It was fun shaking her hand. It was cool, I was the youngest person out of the group. When Rachael was announcing our videos and she said my name, I was like, "Oh my gosh, Rachael Ray knows my name. That’s so cool." I was a little starstruck but was able to keep it together until after we got out. My mom and I went to lunch, and I said, "Oh my goodness, I just shook Rachael Ray’s hand."
What advice did she have for you?
She told all of us to keep doing what we’re doing, to just remember that we should always do what we love. She said, don’t let anyone tell us what we should do or how we should do it. If you do something because other people tell you should do it, you're probably not going to be happy, but if you do what you love and are really passionate about it, a lot of really cool things will happen.
What are your future plans for your business? What’s your vision?
I'm working on a cookbook for kids and adults, because I'm all about having kids come into the kitchen to help their parents cook. I'm talking with some big food names -- I can’t say who right now -- about partnering up and possibly creating a brand, having different products and things like that. I think it would be cool to have a line of cookware, like Rachael Ray does. I definitely have exciting projects coming up that will help Lizzie Marie Cuisine become even bigger.
Do you see yourself doing this through adulthood, or do you have other things you’d like to try?
I don’t know if I'm going to do this for the rest of my life, but I'm really enjoying it now. I have other passions -- forensic science, reading and archery. I don’t know if I'm going to go to college and open my own restaurant, but I do think it would be really fun to have my own TV show and make Lizzie Marie Cuisine a household name. I'm working on making it a brand name. I'm not going to say when I’m 20, I have to have my own TV show or I’m going to quit Lizzie Marie Cuisine, because you never know what’s going to happen. I've had a lot of amazing experiences because of Lizzie Marie Cuisine so far and I'm excited to see what happens.
A lot of entrepreneurs face the challenge of balancing their business and personal lives, no matter what their age. What are your secrets for keeping things in balance?
Even though I've had a bunch of crazy good things happen, the company is not so big to the point where I have paparazzi chasing me down or anything like that. My friends are supportive and they think it's cool. They don't treat me any differently. But it's kind of funny -- when we’re like "What did you do last week?" and they’re like, "I went roller skating" or "I went shopping," and I'm like, "I was on CNN last week." I definitely think as Lizzie Marie Cuisine grows, my life will become busier. But I’m homeschooled, which makes it make it easy -- it’s flexible. Without my family and friends, I probably wouldn’t have Lizzie Marie Cuisine. They keep me grounded, so I’m not like "I’m fabulous because I have my own business and I’m only 11 years old." They're crucial to me having a normal life.
Any other advice for kid entrepreneurs?
You should just do what you love, whatever it may be, even if you aren't sure you can do it now. People always ask, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" I don’t think you should wait until you grow up. I say, "I already have my own business. Hopefully, I’ll have a TV show when I grow up." I think doing what you love is the biggest part. Don’t be afraid to do what you love.
Name: Lizzie Marie Likness
Company: Lizzie Marie Cuisine
Employees: A manager, plus help from her parents