Tuesday, December 13, 2016

reflections on running a bakery [almost] one year in

My, oh my, what a year.

I've been feeling all sorts of nostalgic lately as we come up on the one year anniversary of opening the bakery. When I moved to Ohio six short years ago, I never imagined my life would look anything like it does now. I've gone from full-time teacher to "runs a business from home" on the side for fun to "runs a business full-time from home while caring for an infant" to opening a brick-and-mortar bakery (and the toddler now attends daycare). 

The progression has been steady and natural, and it is so fascinating to see how God has worked it all out. There were things and situations I didn't understand why or how in the moment... but as years have passed I can see what He was doing in those moments.

I opened the Sara's Sweets storefront almost one year ago, December 15 to be exact. I had previously been running the business from home, and selling cupcakes at a retail location 2 days a week along with regular order pick-ups and catering orders. We literally moved everything from the house to the new bakery on a Sunday, and opened for business that Tuesday. (Who needs to take time to train or practice with the new equipment?!)

I had been super smart (or so I thought) and wrote a fancy business plan with sales projections - however we were immediately doing triple what I had predicted. While that is GREAT and PHENOMENAL for business, it was a disaster on the management side of things! (Remember - I have a degree in math, NO business experience whatsoever.)

Like a customer said, it was like a train that was riding off into the distance and we were barely hanging on to the very edge of the caboose. Nothing was within my control. I couldn't keep product stocked, I didn't have any sort of inventory system (out of butter, AGAIN??!), we didn't even have a phone line. (Imagine setting a cell phone in the center of the shop and using that like a legit business phone system.)

The entire first month, I came home to sleep my 2 hours a night and thought that I had ruined my life. Quite literally, I wanted to give the whole thing up. I wasn't sleeping, I wasn't seeing my family, and all I did was live, eat, and breathe cupcakes. And cleaning. And shopping for supplies. The ultimate breakdown occurred in the Meijer parking lot at 3am - I had gotten the entire grocery cart full only to realize I didn't have my wallet. :'(

As time went on, things slowly got better. I hired some great employees, many who are still there to this day keeping our little bakery running smoothly. I had a really hard time adjusting though. My business had grown to be so much more of a responsibility. A lot of things were out of my control. Not only was I responsible to myself, but I had all these people (employees AND customers) who were looking to me everyday with their own questions, needs, concerns, and lives outside of the bakery. I never asked for that, I never wanted that.

It wasn't until I had a shift in my mindset that I began to truly embrace it. Instead of wondering how I would get through each day of pressing responsibilities, I began to ask myself, "How can YOU help someone else today? What can YOU do, Sara, to affect their life in a positive way?" It might be something as simple as writing a stupid joke or funny quote on the whiteboard, or taking out the trash, or buying a case of Pepsi. Truly getting to know my people, and building relationships with them. Once I began to embrace the new role, I really began to see how God could work through this little bakery. Even if it just means more people with meaningful friendships and relationships - it's worth it. If it's providing a safe and happy workplace - it's worth it. If it's giving members of the Lima community a small little escape in their day - it's worth it. The cupcakes are just the icing on the cake. :-P

Lots of growing pains this first year... we've grown from 2 to 15 employees, we've expanded our hours of operation from 32/week to 47/week, we've grown our product line. Lots of headaches (and BLESSINGS!) along the way. Would I do it all again??! In a heartbeat! (But I am SO SO SO SO SO glad I never have to do it again from the ground up. Ohhhhh my. I wish I could go back and tell last December me that I would sleep again, eventually.)

It is truly such a TEAM effort. Without each & every employee doing their specific role, we would NOT be able to operate and run as smoothly as we do now on a daily basis. I am SO thankful for each & every one of my girls and the way they rock out their jobs. 

That being said - here's a few of my favorite snapshots from our first year!

Ben jumped in and helped SO SO much those first few months. I would have never survived without him. So thankful for his willingness to dive in - even when it means taking out the trash in the freezing cold and doing dishes for hours on end.

James used to eat breakfast at the bakery everyday - look at that little squishy baby!

Fun for St. Paddy's Day!

For the first several months, every Saturday afternoon I would crash with James on the couch. I was just SO dang tired.

Frosting cupcakes before an awards gala - because you still have to get the work done....

In August, Shirley's Gourmet Popcorn Company opened next door. We have NEIGHBORS! And James loooooves their popcorn.

In October, we got to run a workshop at a local high school career fair with 1000+ students. What a day!

Our ugly Christmas sweaters, complete with a cupcake and all!

And finally, our Christmas party! A fun time getting creative outside of the baking realm.

And my FAVORITE quote right now - I love my monkeys and I wouldn't change it for the world.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

bakery life

Well, we have survived! The first two weeks of bakery life, that is.

A lot of people told me I was NUTS to try to open a bakery right before Christmas. (They might have been right... but I'm stubborn, and I do what I want. Ha.)

I'd been waiting all year to get this bakery open, so when I received our official license to do business on Monday 12/14, I scrambled to get the doors open Tuesday! Fortunately, we had pretty much moved everything in over the weekend (with the help of my WONDERFUL mom & dad).

Just a portion of the boxes we unpacked. My house is EMPTY now!

Yummy ingredients, all organized in tubs.

First of MANY MANY takeout dinners at the bakery.

He thinks he's so helpful.

Let me just say... I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. I had all these plans in place, I knew exactly how things would function! Bahahaha. I have learned SO much just in the last two weeks. That first week was such a hot mess! You wouldn't have known it if you walked in the shop, but I was pretty much in a constant state of panic. 

The very first cupcakes baked in the BEAST (our nickname for the oven). I bought it from a Cinnabon down near Columbus. First couple rounds, everything smelled like cinnamon rolls! Now it smells like cupcakes. :)

We ended up doing about TRIPLE the production I had planned for, and I just wasn't sure how to operate in such large quantities! We kept running out of butter, sugar, powdered sugar, cupcake boxes. How do you sell cupcakes with no boxes??! One of my customers put it the right way - "You've got a tiger by the tail!" We were able to keep up, but not without a mental breakdown in the Meijer parking lot at 2am one night (morning??!) I never knew it was physically possible to work a 20-hour day, but I pulled a few of them in that first week!

I've cracked just a few eggs in the last two weeks - enough to bake 7000+ cupcakes and 2000+ cookies!

After getting a bit of rest that weekend, I was finally able to turn my brain on, and figure out some systems to make bakery life a little easier and much more efficient. We've got a LONG way to go, but week #2 went much more smoothly. We baked & sold a LOT more cupcakes, and worked a lot less. Progress! 

Our seating area. In love.

I am realizing how VALUABLE my employees are, and how much I appreciate everything they do! (Especially the box folding. I am SO glad to defer the box folding to someone else at this stage of life. :-P) 

I also have to thank my sweet, sweet husband of mine, who is the best counter boy EVAH. Lucky for me, his work is just around the corner (quite literally), so he pops in quite frequently to lend a helping hand. 

What about my Jamesy?! He's been enjoying a lot of time at the bakery. He did end up traveling to the grandparents for a few days between Christmas and New Year's because our daycare isn't open here in the Bean Town and my usual babysitter is out of town. So I'm missing him just a bit.

Gourmet breakfast of 'tiny donuts' aka Cheerios. 

Just wanted to give a brief update so I could look back on this in a few years and laugh! I am LOVING every minute of this crazy life. Happy New Year!

P.S. Nice-looking photos credit to Graham Goebel

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

brain dump [july 2015]

It's been a hot minute since I've blogged... life's just a bit chaotic. But life is always chaotic, no? I've coem to learn that in my 27 fine years here on this Earth. I'm learning to embrace the chaos.

I'll try to somewhat break this post up into categories, to at least help me organize myself.

New Orleans: My Business Man & I went to New Orleans for a work conference at the beginning of June. (To clarify, it was a work conference for my Business Man. Sadly there are no giant cupcake conferences. That I've discovered. Yet.) 

Did you catch that?! We went WITHOUT the James-ter! We LEFT HIM! OVERNIGHT! And he survived. (We did, too.) It was actually so strange to be without our little nugget. And after that first night of sleeping 8 glorious hours, it was pretty fantastic. ;) We had a fun little getaway, but definitely missed our little guy.

Highlights of the trip included eating ALL THE FOOD, seeing a random movie in the middle of the day (in a theater!), morning runs through the Garden District, and a hands-on cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking.

We even have the aprons to prove it!
One of the best meals - fresh-pressed muffulettas at the market.
This meal was also probably the cheapest, at just $8.
Visitors: Out of the last 4 weeks, we've had visitors here about 3 of them. Lots of love for Jamesy-boy!

My mom & dad came to visit and we took James to the pool for the first time. He loves the water! He loves to lay back & relax, or lean forward and try to kick himself around. He doesn't really get anywhere though.

Water baby!
We celebrated an early birthday for my dad since we wouldn't get to see him on his actual birthday (July 10.) I made him a homemade angel food cake, and not to toot my own horn, but it was pretty fab.

Just a few candles shy of the 54 that should have been on the cake...

My friend Kristi and her two sweet kidd-os (Cora & Casey) came to visit for a night. It was SO good to catch up! She lives in a remote village in Alaska, so we don't get to see each other often. We got to go for a run, make homemade pizza, and just spend some QT together. We are actually going to meet up in San Diego next month for a girls' trip! Woah!

And somehow this is the only picture we got! Ahhhh. Chaos, I tell you.
Finally, my Business Man's family came to visit for a week! James' uncle Zack has been teaching in Laos for the entire past academic year and just came home in June. So they had never met before! James loved his uncle Zack time. Seriously, James loved to sit and cuddle with Zack for long periods of time. (He never cuddles with me!)

Learning how to watch Netflix on the iPad. Bahaha.
Michigan: Before my in-laws came to visit, we met them up north for a weekend in Michigan. Of course, in our favorite area! We stayed in Saugatuck at a recently remodeled retro motel - the Starlite Resort. It was cute, clean, and had a fun pool! All our requirements were met. :)

First overnight at a hotel for James... "This bed is all for ME??!"

They had a few hammocks, too. We thought it'd be great to try to get a cute pic of James on the hammock.... ummm yea.

"Sit here on the hammock," they said, "it'll be fun!" LIES!

Much better in Mom's arms.

First family selfie!
My Business Man & I even escaped for a date night to our favorite restaurant - Salt of the Earth. And devoured the toasted s'mores dessert. Omg, so good. Take me back.

Mmm, that salted caramel sauce. When will they invent tast-o-vision for the computer screen?!

Cupcakes: The business is booming, which is great. I've got lots of exciting things on the horizon, but not really able to say anything yet. God is good. :)

Fun birthday cake!

Gorgeous wedding set-up.

Whimsical smash cake.

Other random pictures:

I've been obsessively buying all the new varieties of Oreos
that now exist, so thought this was fitting.

James LOVE yogurt!

And he hates shopping at Wal-mart. You and me both, buddy.

Happy boy sitting on his couch!

With that, I'm off to pack for another adventure! We are headed to Door County, WI for a fun-filled week with my parents. Bring on all the trail runs, cherry salsa, and ICE CREAM!

Simply Yours Designs: Cute Blog Designs