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Exclusive: Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar Raises Series B Funding Round to Expand Into the Grocery Aisle

October 15, 2019, 11:00 AM UTC

Milk Bar CEO Christina Tosi likes to say that she and the rest of the team behind the bakery she founded more than a decade ago are “undercover grown ups.”

The company—whose quirky concoctions like compost cookies and cereal milk soft serve have helped it develop a cult-like following—got the industry to pay attention to its ambitions when it raised a Series A round of funding in November 2017. “That was Milk Bar coming into its own and taking itself seriously as a business,” Tosi says.

Now, in case there were any remaining questions about how far Tosi thinks she can take the company, she is set to close a Series B round this week. The sole investor in the round is venture fund Sonoma Brands, which has backed the likes of Krave Jerky and Smashmallow. “This is the next chapter,” Tosi says. “It’s not about legitimizing the business anymore.”

Milk Bar will continue push deeper into e-commerce with its “care packages” and keep expanding its physical presence—it has 16 locations and will open a 4,000 square-foot flagship in Manhattan by the end of the year. But with the investment and Sonoma’s expertise in building brands in the consumer packaged goods space, Milk Bar is also laying the groundwork to sell its products in retail outlets like grocery stores. “Our community is so much bigger than just where we have stores,” Tosi says. “It’s about reaching more people in more meaningful ways.”

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Sonoma Brands founder and managing partner Jon Sebastiani said it was a “defining moment” for the firm and one of the largest investments it has ever made. Sebastiani is joining the board as part of the deal and said he will be not only a financial backer but also an operating partner. He plans to spend about half his time in New York to help build the team that will take Milk Bar to retail, he said.  

Focus Brands COO and North America president Kat Cole, who Tosi called “an incredible role model and businessperson,” has also joined the company’s board.

Tosi and Sebastiani both say the company will embrace its snacking and indulgent roots as it develops a strategy for grocery store aisles. “We’re never going to sacrifice quality for scale,” Sebastiani says.

Milk Bar’s Holiday spread.
Courtesy of Milk Bar
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Before he even met Tosi, Sebastiani was a regular customer and admirer of Milk Bar, which he describes as the “next Oreo” and the “next generation’s real iconic brand.” He comes from the wine world and says the romantic relationship people have with wine reminded him of the connection some have with the company. “There’s a magical love affair and affinity that consumers have with Milk Bar,” he explains.

Tosi started the dessert program at famed restaurant group Momofuku before founding the company’s bakery, Milk Bar, in 2008 (today Milk Bar is run independently of Momofuku). She bootstrapped Milk Bar for nine years before raising a Series A from RSE Ventures.

Tosi has become a celebrity in her own right, with two James Beard awards, a handful of cookbooks, a judging spot on various seasons of MasterChef, and her own episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Her rising star is one of the things that attracted Sebastiani to Milk Bar. “Many brands today are searching for key brand ambassadors and influencers,” he says. “Here we have one, and she’s the founder.”

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