The first time Lonisa Bowen tasted a macaron, it was love at first bite. Ever since, the self-taught baker has been passionate about sharing her love of macarons with the Memphis community. After several years of perfecting her recipe and selling to family and friends, Lonisa, better known as Lala, launched The Sift Bakery, which specializes in making more than 100 different flavors of macarons — including gluten-free varieties — in assorted colors and styles that resemble bite-sized works of art. She uses all-natural ingredients to flavor her macaron fillings, which range from favorites like Oreo, Fruity Pebbles, Nutella, and birthday cake to summer specialties like mango, sweet peach, passion fruit, and key lime pie.
Until recently, Lala juggled her one-woman bakery with a job as a logistics specialist, but she now bakes full-time out of the Memphis Kitchen Co-Op in Cordova, where she completes custom orders for birthday parties, baby showers, and other events, along with weekly batches of macarons to sell at local farmers’ markets. “It’s therapeutic for me,” she says. “I love that I can create almost any flavor I can dream up from vanilla bean to honey cheesecake to banana pudding.” Read on for more from our newest FACE of Memphis, Lala Bowen.
How did you get started baking?
I’ve always wanted to own a bakery. When I graduated from high school, I wanted to go to pastry school to be a chef. I was a teenage mother, so I had to put that on the back burner, but it was always in the back of my mind. I used to make fondant cakes because I enjoyed creating different designs with my hands. But that was hard to promote, so I knew I needed to do something different.
What drew you to macarons?
I was first introduced to macarons in 2014 by a friend from work who shared some with me from a bakery off of Poplar Avenue. I fell in love with the texture right away. There was a crunch in there, then it was chewy and sweet. I was like, “Whoa, this is different.” I held onto the other macaron for the rest of my shift so I could bring it home to split with my husband because I knew he wouldn’t understand what type of cookie it was until he tasted it himself. He loved it, too, so I decided to try to make macarons.
How did you perfect your recipe?
On the first try, I got it right, so I knew I was on to something. But after that, I flopped and kept flopping. I was so consumed by it that any weekend I didn’t have sports events for my kids or anything else to do, I was in the kitchen trying to figure it out. It was just failure after failure for two and a half years. Eventually, I took a break for a few months because I was tired of my macarons messing up, but my husband wouldn’t let me give up. He would go to Kroger and buy all the ingredients I needed so I didn’t have an excuse to quit. So I got back in the kitchen again, and I finally got it.
What makes your macarons unique?
Our flavors and colors change weekly. Our lemon macarons may be in yellow one week, and that same flavor may be in a pink shell with blue sprinkles the next. I want people to know that macarons don’t have to be plain. They can go as far as you would like for them to go. When I mix new flavors, I let my mind do whatever it wants to, and I just put it out there to see if people like it. I love being able to create flavors that customers really love. I don’t use artificial flavorings or extracts in my fillings. Anything you get from me is made with real and fresh ingredients.
Do you have a favorite flavor?
Oreo macarons! We put 30 Oreos in each batch, so you’re getting plenty between the shell and the buttercream filling.
We know you can’t reveal your recipe, but what’s one of the secrets to making a perfect macaron?
Love. There are so many things that can go wrong when making macarons that you have to absolutely love it. So much science is involved. Humidity will literally destroy macarons. Every time I use a new oven, I have to tweak the recipe to keep from burning them. You have to know the right ratios to use and when to stop mixing. It takes a lot of patience. A lot of love and hard work goes into it.
How do you envision growing your business in the future?
I would love to be mobile. I’d love to be able to go to different spots throughout Memphis to get more people familiar with macarons and my product especially.
What’s been the most fulfilling part of starting your own bakery?
The sense of ownership. Just having something that belongs to me that I literally built from the ground up. I still have a long way to go, but going from experimenting with macarons in my kitchen and barely having any orders (except from friends who wanted to support me) to starting out with just a handful of customers at the farmers’ market, to now selling out has been rewarding. The support I’ve gotten from people in Memphis has been overwhelming.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received or have to give to other entrepreneurs?
The best advice I’ve received is if this is something you want to do, don’t stop, regardless of what people say. If they say it’s too much or it’s not gonna work, don’t listen to them. The best advice I can give someone else is if you are passionate about doing something, keep going. Not every day is going to be a good day. But if you work hard, it always pays off. With anything you do, you have to be patient and trust the process. Just stick with it, keep trusting the process, and it will work out.
Aside from faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Music has gotten me through some long hours in the kitchen. And coffee — I love my iced lattes. And my journal. I write in it pretty much every day. We all have friends we can talk to about what’s going on in our lives, but sometimes you just need to write it down so you can look back at it later and figure things out.
SB Tip: Memphians can find Lala’s macarons at the Cooper-Young Community Farmers’ Market and Bartlett Station Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, the Collierville Farmers Market on Thursdays, and French Truck Coffee in Crosstown Concourse. Come early because she sells out fast!
To meet more inspiring Memphis women, visit our FACES archives.