By Claire Taylor
BELGRADE, Milica Calija is used to people’s puzzled expressions when they learn she quit a successful marketing and communications career to bake oatmeal cookies.
Her answer: “I think I was born with a different spirit.”
Calija is a mother of three with short, curly, dark brown hair and a constant smile made only more endearing by the slight gap between her front teeth.
But she is also the co-owner and founder with her husband of Andjeli (meaning “angels”) a brand of healthy oatmeal cookies that range from flavors such as dark chocolate with mint to white chocolate with apples and nuts.
“I had always wanted to create a product that would be important to people. My husband and I also wanted to start eating better for our children and there weren’t healthy food options already available that weren’t filled with chemicals,” she said.
Health food stores and health food alternatives, such as Andjeli’s oatmeal cookies, are not very prevalent in Serbia. While the number of these stores and options are growing in recent years, Calija was on the front end of this trend.
Starting Andjeli was not an easy process though. Calija and her husband started using their own oven for the first six months before renting first production space. Since then, the business has grown from her lovingly crafting each cookie in her flat, to opening the first flag-ship store this November, and dreams of exporting the cookies to more countries. “There were definitely times I was questioning and wanted to quit,” Calija remembers. But quitting was not an option for her.
“I grew tired of the rat race and values of corporate work,” Calija said. “I wanted to think and be responsible; to create value and change in society, and to live out my values in my work.”
“At the start of Andjeli I was really busy but I had family to help take care of the kids. Sometimes I would, and still do, take them to work with me. I want them to grow up watching us create new values, and I also just really enjoy their company,” Calija said of her seven-year old son, and two daughters who are five and three years old.
The name Andjeli captures Calija’s values. “My husband and I went for a picnic on a cool autumn, or maybe it was spring, day, and discussed what we wanted to name our cookies,” Calija said. “We came up with the name because angels, like our cookies, are good to you and for you, and we call our kids our angels and they inspired us to start the business.”
Part-time Art Director for Andjeli Aleksandra Prhal recalls the process of putting Calija’s vision and values of Andjeli into art. Prhal recalls that Calija wanted the design of Andjeli’s packaging “to evoke in the hearts and minds of their customers” the love and passion she herself “felt from the product” when creating it.
It seems that customers feel the same about the product and regularly acknowledge that at company’s Facebook page, which has more than 15,000 fans.
“The Cookies taste like Haven! I absolutely Love them! And the Boxes are so adorable,” wrote Sandra Cosic in her review.
To Calija, Andjeli is also an embodiment of the values she learned from her father: “personal initiative, personal change, no step is small if it’s a step forward. You can succeed at anything if you work hard and fair and take a different and often harder path.”
As if all this work with Andjeli was not enough, Calija is also finding time to pursue her other passions. She is a member of an amateur singing group, and avid reader, and a founder of a non-profit UdruZene (Women Together) that advocates for women’s rights.
Friend Sonja Dakic said she does not know how Calija manages it all but, “she is living proof that when you love something you can find a way to make miracles happen.”
When reflecting on her responsibilities herself, Calija throws her head back, smiles, and starts to laugh, “I’m very renaissance you know.”