We wanted to dedicate this Mother’s Day to all the moms who work to make your special day a little sweeter. Valerie Gordon and Christine Moore began as confectioners who grew their small candy businesses into successful cafes, restaurants and carefully curated shops, all while raising kids and employing dozens of people.
Christine Moore might be the most vivacious, gracious and generous women many of us in the food business have ever met. She is the ultimate collaborator and always credits her team with their shared successes. We’ve watched her build her candy empire by bringing everyone around her up, cheering them on and being an advocate. I treasure every moment of our friendship, and like many other moms in the L.A. food scene, owe her the sweetest debt of gratitude. You can experience Christine’s graciousness at one of her three restaurants: Little Flower, Lincoln and C’est La Vie.
If you were to speak to anyone who came up in the food scene over the last 20 years, you would find traces of Christine’s charisma and wisdom. We would not be in business were it not for Christine’s serendipitous introductions and willingness to share her journey.
I interviewed Christine to find out more about how being a daughter, mothering her three children and her upbringing shaped who she is and how that impacts her businesses.
Hi Christine! Thanks for doing this. We’ve watched you engage at full speed in candymaking, opening businesses and parenting. What was your childhood like? Was it similar to the one your children are living now?
No. My childhood was chaotic. Super poor, chaotic, but fun. I was the 2nd child of four and the oldest girl.
Tell me a little about your mom.
My mom was super loving. She was a single mom and really hard-working. She was our biggest supporter and would give anyone the shirt off her back. My mom has a very generous spirit and we just have a way in our family; we do not speak unkind words. We just try really hard to see the best in people, always. I just believe that people’s intentions are good, and that people are good.
Was your mom a business woman?
No, my mom cleaned houses and my dad was in HR, but he wasn’t in the picture. We lived on a shoestring and it was rough. I left home at 17, the day I graduated from high school. I was a top athlete in the state of New Jersey- 1st team all-state in volleyball. I was offered multiple scholarships, but the last thing I wanted to be was a student. I accepted a scholarship; everyone I knew was expected to go to college, work on Wall Street. There were no creative jobs I knew about, and I didn’t know I was a creative person, I just knew I didn’t fit in.
What is your fondest childhood memory of Mother’s Day?
I remember making breakfast in bed for my mom and presenting her with a menu (I can’t say I even remember having gone to a restaurant). I was 8 or 9 years old, taking her order, going downstairs and making it and coming back up to serve her.
So cooking was something you started doing at a young age? What do you remember making?
I was always cooking, always baking. I would have obsessions and would make one things for months: soft pretzels, corn muffins, tuna casseroles, rice pudding. I probably made all of these things because I loved eating them.
What was food culture like around your house growing up?
My mom was really good at using what we had. We always had a bowl of rice pudding on the stove, an apple brown Betty (we would go apple picking before it was a trendy thing). We also had a salt shaker in the glove compartment of our car. We would buy buckets of tomatoes off the side of the road and salt them right there and eat them. We had a garden – cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini – the smell of those tomato leaves on my hands would last all day. I get a little weepy when I smell that. We were a big Irish Catholic family, so boiled meats, boiled carrots, potatoes – my Mom made a lot of stews and one pot meals. Today, my Le Creuset never leaves the stove top.
What are some of your fondest food memories?
There was a deli in South Orange and they made these sandwiches called Sloppy Joe’s. Sometimes the rich kids in town would have parties and we would get to eat them – they were made with pain de mie and filled with ham, turkey, Russian dressing and pressed, then sliced up into cocktail sandwiches.
So how did you get from New Jersey to L.A.? And was it food that led you there?
I dropped out of the University of New Haven after my freshman year. I fell in love with a Yale philosophy major and we moved to California together. We were together for 8 years. I waitressed, catered, started a catering company and managed a busy restaurant in Pasadena (Green Street, it’s still there). I catered lunches for ladies at a department store in Pasadena; I’d make Nicoise salads, fresh baked breads and freshly squeezed Limeaid and they would shower me with makeup and perfume.
You have a very European sensibility to your brands. Was there a catalyst or inspiration that fed this?
I lost my best friend in a car accident. It taught me that life is very fragile and I always had dreams of doing pastry. I had taken a baking and pastry class through UCLA Extension, and when Vonnie died I was able to sublet my apartment and moved to France. It really hit home that we can be here today and gone tomorrow.
France? How did you end up there?
I had read every pastry book, dreaming about French patisserie. I had books all over. I knew no one and didn’t speak the language. I had a hotel room on Rue de Seine for three days. At the end of the three days, I walked into a wine shop and said “Je m’appelle Christine”, at which point the owner asked me, in perfect English, if I always walked into a wine shop and introduced myself. Juan and I became fast friends. We would cook dinner parties, cook, bake and smoke cigarettes. I slept on couches and met an Australian woman who gave me her apartment when she left.
Did you work in Paris?
I worked at a charcuterie and at Gerard Mulot.
You worked for Mulot? Doing what?
(Chuckle) I lined tart shells and peeled apples. I was lucky to be there and I did anything they needed me to do. I really long for the Paris of my dreams. And N.Y. and L.A.
How long did you stay?
I lasted a year. I lived on a half baguettes and apples and the occasional half bottle of wine that Juan would give me. I was $5k in debt and it was time to go home and get to work. I was ready and on fire. If I could work for a year in Paris, I could do anything.
When I was still in Paris I sent Nancy Silverton a postcard. I wanted to work for her so I wrote her a postcard saying this is who I am and I have been working in Paris for a year and I want to work for you. A year later, I was at a chocolate demonstration at Campanile. I saw Nancy and got the guts to go up to her. I told her I’d sent her a postcard from Paris and she said she had it and that it was posted on the wall in her office!
When did motherhood happen?
I was a pastry chef at Les Deux when it closed abrubtly and I went to work for Nancy in the pastry kitchen. I did whatever needed to be done. I was there for two years and went back to Les Deux when it re-opened. It was a crazy time! I got married at the restaurant and got pregnant with Maddie. I worked until 5 days before she was born. I thought I was going to drop her into the Hobart.
How did having Maddie change things?
Well, I went home to have a baby and was bored out of my mind. I felt completely underutilized and I was making candy within a month. I did the KCRW show and by October we were selling to a couple of stores. The Frenchies found us – no one else had heard of salted caramels. I was the first and and the first handmade marshmallow.
Nancy asked me to do a benefit for Coleman Farms- there had been a fire- and I couldn’t afford the ingredients for a table full of caramels. So I made 10 hotel pans of marshmallows of every color and all the chefs around town marveled at my display table.
How did Little Flower grow, and how did you do it with kids in tow?
Little Flower Candy Co. grew slowly because there was no information. I had a baby and no info on packaging – this is before I had a computer! I made and cut and wrapped for 4 years. I grew slowly, and eventually the Frenchies found me – but you had to know someone who knew me to order. No website.
Was there anyone who helped you along the way? I remember visiting your house and seeing the kitchen outfitted with metro shelving and stacks of pans – I thought it was heaven – but did you make everything there?
Evan (Kleiman) gave me the keys to Angeli and I would go in at 4 in the morning with my load from Restaurant Depot. The kids would be asleep in my shitty Volvo. I would load things in, make batch after batch of marshmallows in her bread mixer and I had to be out by noon. I would load the hotel pans of marshmallows and caramels and would spend the week cutting and wrapping at home.
How did you handle childcare?
I didn’t. They were with me always. We had a lot of fun. They went on deliveries to Joan’s on Third and Susina, Joan would give them suckers and Jenna would give them Italian cookies. They were the most well-behaved children. And they had crayons and paper. They’re still that way. They make me cry. Those girls have the best memories of growing up with Little Flower. It’s been a lot of hard work but that’s what life is. They have the most wonderful memories of driving all over the city delivering candy.
Do you think you would be a different business owner if you hadn’t had kids?
Oh yeah. Who knows where I would even be? Your kids give you a reason for working. There is nothing better than living for something outside of yourself.
Do you work on Mother’s Day?
I always have but haven’t the last couple of years. We just hang out, cook and relax. People always ask me what I want for Mother’s Day and all I say is “an invitation”.
How do you unwind or deal with stress?
I probably eat too much. I’m a stress eater, and I’m also not a big drinker or exerciser. I think I manage stress pretty well, I would say that today at 53 I meditate and sit in gratitude. You have to take the time to think about what you’ve done well. With parenting, with work, with life.