After graduating from college, Ines Glaser embarked on a successful career in film. Later, she found rewards and accolades in an unexpected arena.
Today, Ines is the chef behind Los Angeles’ Lupa Cotta, a groundbreaking operation that serves up some of the city’s most delectable – and Instagrammable – pizza.
In these unprecedented times, Ines is once again ready to adapt. Soon, she’ll serve up “pizza party kits” at Lady & Larder and Kensho Hollywood to bring delicious pizza and a fun DIY experience to Lupa Cotta’s loyal fans.
Recently, Ines took some time out of her busy schedule to share her story and talk about her latest project with The Sauce:
Zach Links: What inspired you to shift careers from the film industry to making pizza?
Ines Glaser: When I went to University of Colorado to study Film and Literature, I had hopes of becoming a movie director or badass Hollywood producer. To make some extra cash, I got a job at Whole Foods and became obsessed with food and the culture that surrounded it.
After graduating, I decided to pursue the film dream. I moved to New York, then later moved to LA, and traveled for work in between. During these work trips, I became more and more distracted by the local food, the old world traditions, and the young-spirited entrepreneurs. I also started to lose grasp on what my ultimate goal was as a filmmaker. I became bitter towards the bureaucracy of the film world and more focused on the “food moments”.
My favorite memories on-location were the informal meals after a long day’s work. Despite the absolute exhaustion, we would commence with food, have a beer, some laughs, and tell stories. Whether it was food we were eating or the memories we were recounting – food and community is what brought us together.
Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that it was time to transition into something else. I was curious about what it was like to start my own business and be my own boss. I wanted to cultivate something that resembled my love for that “dinner-table-high”. I thought pizza would be a good transition from the film to the food world. Whether you are a Michelin star chef, a stubborn child, a drunk party boy, or a hungry mom, everyone loves pizza. It’s the approachable food.
So, that was it. I quit my job, went to pizza school and spent the next year studying cookbooks, working the “big yellow wood-fired oven” at a respected LA establishment (Sotto), and traveled to Copenhagen to stage under imaginative and incredibly inspiring world-class chefs. Soon after, I started my own company; doing pop-ups and catering private parties. And, here I am. Figuring it all out. One day at a time.
ZL: Historically, Los Angeles has been known for pizzas with non-traditional ingredients, but not great pizza. Chefs such as yourself have changed that in recent years. Why do you think LA’s pizza was lacking? What has sparked the change?
IG: I think LA has always been viewed as a place where people are afraid of carbs and allergy-bland food. Los Angeles is home to the beautiful star, the demanding Hollywood producer, the fad-diet addict. For years restaurants have had to cater to clients’ needs. “Egg whites only.” “I want cheesecake,” (in a Chinese restaurant). “No onions – they make my breath smell bad.”
While these entitled customers and client-focused restaurants still exist, passionate chefs and inventive kitchens are starting to fight back with “no modifications”. Real food is standing up for itself, and honestly, LA is responding really well to it. Our city is having a moment right now. Creativity and individuality are becoming cool again.
On a separate note, I also think people have never pushed for good pizza because we’ve always been home to the LA taco. We are neighbors of Mexico and home to many fantastic Latin American immigrants that have brought us amazing cuisine. LA has tacos locked down like New York has pizza.
ZL: Who have been some of your greatest influences and mentors in the culinary world?
IG: I’m currently most inspired and influenced by Daniela Soto-Innes, Jessica Koslow, Alice Waters, Jeremy Fox, Dan Barber, and Christian Puglisi and his entire restaurant army. These dreamers, entrepreneurs, activists, and chefs are all pushing food and business boundaries within their communities and the rest of the world. I would love to eventually incorporate their food philosophies into my own business.
Some great mentors (and friends) of mine include Zachary Liporace from Pop’s Bagels, Zoe Komarin from Zoe Food Party, Leah Ferrazzani from Semolina Artisanal Pasta, and my good buddies/chefs Larissa Da Costa and Cara McShane. I feel I can truly be honest about my business, my food insecurities, where I’m lost, and where I need to go. Every conversation we’ve had is a valuable one. I always learn something whenever I’m around them and am very thankful to have them in my life.
View this post on Instagram
ZL: On the whole, women are underrepresented in the world of pizza and the restaurant industry in general. Why is that? What are the biggest challenges facing women in the industry?
IG: I think the restaurant and pizza industry has been represented as a place that’s oversaturated with masculine energy. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe pizza, beer, greasy = MEN, but women can be all these things too. So, honestly, I don’t know.
The biggest challenges? It’s the same treatment you get in film. You are not taken seriously as a woman, you deal with double-sided sleazy people all the time, and occasionally you have to stand up for yourself against some pretty shockingly sexist comments.
ZL: A brick-and-mortar restaurant comes with tremendous challenges. A mobile operation must be an entirely different animal. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way and how did you solve them?
IG: Schlepping all the gear by yourself. Keeping the momentum of reaching out to clients. Trying to organize all the chaos as it is scattered and not in one location. Figuring out different markets you are selling to. Trying to acquire more gear while also minimizing my setup. Having extremely “slow” pop-ups. Learning how to establish contracts and minimums to protect yourself. Learning that everyone – even the richest person – is trying to get a deal.
The film and food industry are, funnily enough, more similar than you’d think. You hustle extremely hard to follow your dreams, work long intense hours, schlep till you break your back, never have a routine, and are frequently surrounded by edgy people. So why do we do it? Through all the blood, sweat, and tears…once the magic of comradery has been instilled, thousands of stories will be retold, lifelong friendships will be made, and something beautiful will be produced through the communal effort of the human spirit.
ZL: Your Instagram showcases your drool-worthy dishes, but your menu is password protected – why?
IG: Honestly? Laziness on figuring out how to showcase it. People like when something feels exclusive, so I decided to keep it that way in the meantime. I also like my photo of the candy pizza and want to encourage people to email me. The THOUGHT is there.
ZL: What advice would you give to someone who is just getting started in the pizza business?
IG: Ask questions. Make friends. Stay humble. Learn as much as you can. Don’t stop the hustle. Figure out the loop holes. Build friendships in the pizza community – it is truly a great one.
Work at a restaurant. Stage. Apprentice. Take classes.
I wish that I could have spent ten more years working in kitchens building my skills, but I was also very anxious to start a business, having recently come from the similar hierarchical struggle of the film world. It was a catch-22. Jump with your idea or take years to learn the craft.
Just remember, there is no right path. Your path is the right path and the grass will always seem greener on the other side…but they have some patchy dry spots as well.
ZL: Do you want to eventually open a brick-and-mortar shop? What’s next for you & Lupa Cotta?
IG: I never really had a huge interest in opening a restaurant, but then again, you never know. Maybe [in a few] years, after all the crazy shenanigans are over, that might change.
I’ve always been in love with the idea of a pizza party kit where people gather around the table to cook the worlds most non-confrontational food. Over the past year and a half, I’ve been trying to focus on building my brand and community. I was hoping, eventually, I could build the DIY concept, but I knew that that was going to take time.
I feel very cautious and protective towards my business – as I presume all of us do – so I wanted to make sure it was timed out properly. Given the circumstances of our current world, it seems that time is now.
Everyone has hopped onto the meal kit or take-out concept because, well, really, we don’t have a choice. It’ll be interesting to see how this pandemic changes our food industry as a whole.
My heart goes out to all the restaurants, small businesses, and industry workers out there. Like many of us, I’d eventually love to scale in a way that is community-based, figure out a way to maintain quality, and create sustainable systems that give back to the world.
This year, I was hoping to do more collaborative pop-ups, hone in on montezing catering, do more interactive workshops, and explore some wholesale opportunities. But we’ll see. Maybe I’ll get to push my original idea faster than I intended!
I’ll be selling these pizza-party-kits at Lady & Larder and Kensho Hollywood. Stay tuned on Instagram and LupaCotta.com for updates and new outposts! I might even host a live pizza party on the ‘gram where we can all cook at the same time.
Stay healthy and safe everyone! Looking forward to seeing the creativity that comes out of all of this.
View this post on Instagram