In NewsWhistle’s weekly question-and-answer series, Clara Morgan speaks with some of her top influencers and finds out more about their lives and careers.
This week Clara speaks with Maia Neumann, co-founder and creator of the Good Design award-winning product Yumbox, a new type of lunchbox that’s designed to promote nutritionally-balanced and portion-controlled meals.
Maia Neumann has a long track record of growing and supporting successful children’s brands through her work at Sesame Workshop, United Media, and Scholastic. A long time New Yorker, she moved to Europe over a decade ago, where she experienced first-hand the French method of feeding young children, which influenced the creation and design of Yumbox. As an expat mom living in France, she brings an awareness of healthy eating to the Yumbox community.
Maia and her Yumbox co-founder Daniela Devitt are both proponents of the Mediterranean diet which reinforces moderation and balance. Their hope is that Yumbox will help kids to easily integrate those concepts into their lifestyle. Inspiration came from the French school lunches served to Maia’s kids daily. The emphasis in France is on balance, variety, taste, and nutrition. Yumbox was dreamed up to allow us all to replicate that same balance and nutrition for our kids, regardless of where we live.
Maia lives in Southern France. She loves gardening, food photography, interior design, cooking and traveling. Her family is often on the road exploring new countries and cultures, which she shares with the Instagram community through her @yumboxlunch account. Her next stop? Japan!
1. When and how did you first realize that you wanted to work in the industry and business you are in?
When I left New York for Paris in 2007, I already had an inkling that I wanted to create my own business. This opportunity arose a couple years later, when I came up with the idea for Yumbox. After packing lunches for my young daughter Rio in NYC, I was astonished at the kinds of foods the French schools were feeding young children. Then, when we moved to London from Paris, and I had to start packing lunches again, I wanted to recreate the portable experience of French lunches. Since nothing exactly matched my vision of what a leak-proof bento lunch box should look like, I contacted an old friend Daniela Devitt, and we decided to take it to the next level. Through many ups and downs we succeeded in creating a company, brand, and product that parents use worldwide.
2. Any celebrity clients or memorable stories related to your business that you want to share?
A couple of years ago I was visiting family in New York and took my kids to the Central Park Zoo. While standing in a line to get drinks I took a Yumbox out, as my daughter wanted a snack. A woman behind us exclaimed that she has one just like it, but in red. When I told her that I designed the product, she said she wanted to hug me and thanked me for the invention. My children were very impressed. And it made me feel like a celebrity!
3. What is a typical day like for you? And what do you like to do on a day off?
Yumbox is heavily integrated into my lifestyle. Since I work from home, my hours are blurred. I can easily cover the Asia, Europe, and East Coast hours in a day. But I make sure to find quality time in between. My typical day involves a morning jaunt to the farmers market, Cours Saleya in Nice, where I currently live. Then testing a few recipes for a blog or a photo. So lines often blur between work and leisure. A big part of the day is spent on customer service, either via email or social media. Connecting with our customers is very important to us and we love to get their feedback.
On my real days off you can find me in St. Jean Cap Ferrat swimming, or skiing in Cortina with my family.
4. What is the next big thing in your industry? What are people doing differently today, compared to 10-15 years ago?
We are reflective of the new, mobile, mompreneur network movement. Suddenly staying at home to take care of children and starting a business at the same time became an option. My business partner, Daniela Devitt and I work every day together using Skype, Google Docs, and other shared apps to run the business. This was not so accessible or easy even ten years ago. And we are very grateful for the technology that allows us to work from home – from two different continents!
5. What are your three favorite restaurants in New York?
As I left New York over ten years ago, I like to go back to my old haunts when I come back for a visit. Some of my favorites include the Grand Central’s Oyster Bar, Kelley & Ping, Virgil’s BBQ, Keens Steakhouse and also Nobu for lunch with Daniela whenever I come into town.
6. What are your three favorite bars in New York?
Fort Defiance in Red Hook, as it was opened by an old friend from Tulane University.
Aquavit because of its stylish minimalistic atmosphere and Scandinavian inspired cocktails. Union Square Café because it is a classic and they have great drinks as well as food.
7. What are your three favorite locations to visit in New York?
Since I come to New York only twice a year, we always include at least one of the museums. Our favorite is the Met. Then it’s on to Central Park and of course a trip downtown to SoHo or Tribeca to visit some boutiques.
8. Which three events on your annual calendar will you will absolutely not miss?
Since I live in Southern France, it’s a bit easier for me to absolutely not miss some of these. We love to go skiing in Cortina in February, with a quick stopover in Venice for the carnival, organizing a family beach day during the Cannes Film Festival – in Cannes, and going to New York for Halloween (a must!).
9. What was your best New York moment? Your worst?
I think finding out that we were moving to Paris for my husband’s work was the best and worst New York moment! I still miss New York, but it was refreshing to leave.
10. Tell us something that people do not know about you.
I’m always hungry and I’ll eat anything. But maybe that’s not a secret.
11. How would you describe your personal style?
New York City meets Southern France. I love well-made and tailored clothes, but worn in a relaxed manner.
12. Who is your style icon? Where do you find your style inspiration?
Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, Grace Kelly, and fashion magazines from the 1930s and 40s. I simply adore the French Riviera circa 1920s, so books of that era heavily inspire my sense of style.
13. Who is your favorite fashion designer, artist or architect – and why?
I’m a huge fan of Italian design. I travel to Italy quite often and I’m always impressed by their fashion aesthetic. So give me all the Gucci, Valentino, and Prada and I’ll be happy. For artists, I have a soft spot for anything that’s hanging in Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Especially the impressionists. For architecture – I’m a sucker for the very old farm houses in Provence or Tuscany – architect unknown.
14. Name your favorite… and tell us why:
Silk Kimono dress by Sandro, because it’s so comfortable, sensual, and works for day and night.
Anything by Tom Ford.
Hmmm. So many. But I can watch Hitchcock’s Rebecca over and over again.
d. TV show.
Big Little Lies – I’m addicted.
Elena Ferrante series.
15. What is your favorite restaurant in the world? What is it you love about it and what is your favorite dish?
I have been lucky to go to many amazing restaurants in the world. But since I just paid this one another visit, it’s fresh in my mind. It’s called El Brite de Larieto. It is a working farm just outside of Cortina d’Ampezzo, surrounded by the Dolomites. They have a tiny, but very charming restaurant, that’s truly farm to table. Everything is amazing. All the dishes. Starting with homemade butter to the most delectable pasta. There’s not many places like this in the world. And it’s good to visit animals in the stalls to see what you’re about to eat.
16. Name your favorite vacation spot and hotel? What makes these places so special?
One of my favorites is Venice. I am fortunate to be able to go there once a year. If we stay longer than a day I try to rent an apartment via Airbnb in San Polo neighborhood. Venice at night, when all the tourists leave, is quite special.
17. Which three items can you not live without?
My iPhone – it helps me run the business!
My sunglasses – as it’s very sunny in Nice.
And a red lipstick – it just makes me feel more put together, even though I’m not most days.
18. What song, meditation or mantra can you listen to on repeat? And why?
I listen to music quite a bit during the day. I can easily switch from hip hop to Dvorak in the same ten minutes. But if I need to meditate and focus I listen to Yo Yo Ma’s cello suites.
19. If you could meet anyone in the world, who would you like to meet? And why?
We are grateful to Google and Facebook for creating applications and tools that allowed us to flourish as a mobile small business. So we would love to meet the founders and take them out to dinner.
20. Is there anything else you would like to share, discuss or promote?
One of our challenges as a small and innovative business, is seeing our designs copied by Alibaba-listed factories in China. Amazon allows the copies to be easily sold via their website and to create brand confusion. It’s important for any customer, especially those buying products for children, to understand where the product is coming from, their safety, and to support brands that are the original creators. Visit our website to learn more about Yumbox: www.yumboxlunch.com.
Images of Maia Neumann Courtesy of Frederick Nebinger; Images of Yumboxes Courtesy of Yumbox