Baking For Dollars: Transforming a Hobby into a Business
Almost every cook has a special recipe that consistently gets rave reviews from family and friends. But when that specialty provides the inspiration needed to jump start a home-based baking business, there’s often a tasty story with kernels of unexpected wisdom.
Kevin Lindee transformed his baking hobby into a business three years ago, after serendipitously opening up a box of his homemade truffles while at a local coffee shop. The shop’s owner sampled one of the confections and asked if Lindee sold his creations. The experience convinced the 2008 Baking & Pastry graduate of The International Culinary School at The Art Institutes International Minnesota to launch a store called Ganache: Truffles for Every Occasion. Lindee has since expanded into specialty desserts and traditional torts. “I actually was not planning to be in business this soon, but fate said differently,” he quips.
Keri Trbovich’s interest in cooking and baking led her to pursue a second job as an at-home baker. She perfected her skills by taking a Wilton Cake decorating class and soon after started her specialty fondant cake and gourmet cupcake baking business called The Icing on the Cake. “I have always loved to bake and the class demonstrated an array of decorating techniques for the beginner decorator,” she says. Trbovich continued her self-education by watching YouTube cake decorating videos, gaining the techniques needed to make her cakes stand apart.
While Lindee and Trbovich each found success following very different career paths - Trbovich has no formal training in the field - there are some universal truths for those dreaming of a home-based baking business, according to Executive Corporate Chef and Pittsburgh Hot Plate blogger Chuck Kerber.
One of the most important: To grow a baking business, you have to provide a quality product at a reasonable price. “You can always create a demand for a product if it’s exceptional,” he states.
Balancing the creative side of baking with the management of a business can be a big challenge. Start-up costs are often high due to needed equipment and ingredients. Trbovich also had to learn to make the most of her small kitchen. “Figuring out how to bake and decorate cakes in a confined space was very challenging at first,” she says.
Finding good help, when needed for a large order, may also be difficult. And for bakers interested in marketing their creations to larger commercial enterprises, there’s another hurdle - the home kitchen is out. Food must be prepared in a food safety certified location such as a restaurant or catering business.
Lindee has been able to use his employer’s professional kitchens in such instances, just one of the many benefits he’s gained through his culinary work experience. “There are many challenges, especially when you do most of your work at home,” he adds.
But good equipment and business skills can only take you so far. Kerber suggests that it’s critical to know what product you want to produce - and to find a way to make it consistently perfect every time. “Make sure that you have a recipe that you can count on. This means a recipe that is extraordinary and unlike any other.” He urges the need for consistency. “Whatever you make has to be exactly like it was before. Any variations in the recipe will cost you customers,” he states.
Finding and keeping customers is one of the most gratifying parts of having a baking business, according to Kerber. “Hit the pavement, and give some product away. If the potential customers like what you’re selling, they will give you a call,” he says.
Lindee seconds this assertion, saying he regularly takes advantage of local events to market his creations by providing samples, taking part in competitions and demonstrations, and donating to local charities. “Even if the outcome is very small, the little bit of exposure in the market will help you build a client based relationship,” he says.
Using social media is a new way to build business awareness, according to Trbovich, who has a Facebook page dedicated to her fondant cakes. Other tips include setting up a dedicated website and utilizing the old standby - word of mouth advertising from satisfied customers, family, and friends.
For home bakers interested in transforming their hobby into a successful profession, there’s one common thread: a passion for food and a dedication to creating something that keeps customers coming back. “If your clients can see your passion in everything that comes out of your kitchen, then you will always have a thriving business,” asserts Trbovich.
Lindee adds that there’s an unexpected bonus at the end of the day -the gratification of seeing positive results from hard work combined with a passion for culinary arts. “I am true to myself as a baker and when I deliver my services to clients.”
For more information about the Baking and Pastry program at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Portland, click HERE