Ten years ago, I switched careers, or rather I gave up hope with one and grasped desperately onto another. I had been trying to make my way in production, thinking I should be an editor, then a producer, then a writer, all vain and directionless goals in areas where I had no real skills. In reality, I amounted to no more than a secretary, with the exception of one writing gig that ended when the company did. Then, one birthday, my now husband gifted me a short cooking class. It clicked. I was happy. As soon as I could possibly enroll and line up the funds, I signed up for the pastry arts program at The French Culinary Institute. I took a mindless day-job that guaranteed a strict 9-5 schedule and took classes at night. A new world opened up for me and I became a foodie.
After my graduation, I took a job at a tiny bakery in the East Village where a very talented artist was trying to make a go of it creating work-of-art custom cakes. She sculpted life-size unicorns, vase-sized flowers, made Radio-City Musical Hall shaped gingerbread houses, and did this very cool thing of adorning cakes with decorated cookies. I stayed on as the baker there for about ten months when she decided to close to re-organize (which she did, then closed again for good to my sadness).
Then I began my on-again off-again relationship with the food business. I took a secretarial temp job to make some money after my first food job, not yet used to the low pay and needing an infusion. Then I remembered I hated office jobs, decided I could launch a dessert business from my kitchen with no promotion and no money and did so for about four months, until I needed money again. I decided to try the restaurant business, to go through the boot camp I'd avoided after school. I worked in a pastry kitchen at a fine dining restaurant in New York for ten months. I hated the life, but I understood those who didn't. It was addictive, trying always to be better, to compete at a personal level to be tough, fast, good. Sleeping during the day, working and playing at night, having days off when others were working. In the end, though, there was no balance and there's only so out-of-sync I'm willing to be with the rest of the world. Next I tried a food-related business, working as a salesperson at a food distribution company. I was a wretched salesperson and was soon fired. Next I did some corporate party planning for a friend of a friend. This soon led us to want to start our own party planning service for children's birthdays. I would make the cakes. We had meetings. We got serious. There was some money investment, some looking around for a space. Then I found something. Or rather someone. Someone also looking for space from which to make her cakes. In the end, she found the space and took the all the financial risk. I became her tenant. But my partners bailed and I was faced with deciding if I could persue this on my own or not. I took the gamble. Flour Girl was born.
I worked two jobs for over a year, the day job to pay the bakery rent and some personal bills and the baking job on the weekends, when I could get the work. I sent out a press kit on myself and got a few nibbles. Then, almost nine months after my press kit went out, I got a visit from a writer at New York magazine who liked one of my cakes. In March, 2004, Flour Girl was named "Best Kid's Birthday Cake" in the Best Of edition of the magazine. The orders flooded in and I was able to quit my day-job. Then I worked the equivalent of three jobs for the next year and a half.
Sometime during that year and a half, my husband and I decided to have a baby. Part of me wonders if I chose to get pregnant because I needed the vacation. Whatever the case my be, I made plans to close briefly and reopen in a nearby suburb, where I was lured to move with notions of opening a retail shop, having an actual staff, being able to accept more than a handful of orders per weekend and actually making some money. (More on that later.) I decided four months' leave should be enough to find a space, finance a business, outfit it with equipment, find a staff and adjust to motherhood. It took me a year and a half -- and I have still not adjusted to motherhood.
And now, the bakery I finally did open, Flour Patch Bakery, is approaching its one-year anniversary. There is not a week that goes by smoothly. Every single week, every single day, there is something with which to cope, whether it is a no show employee, a black-out, a cash crunch, an unhappy customer or a personal crisis. I have much to learn and much to tell. This blog is meant to document my journey in the cake business, to serve as comic relief and to be a cautionary tale for others in my shoes or wanting to be, whether you sell soap or T-shirts or, heaven forbid, cakes.