Entrepreneurs feed their dreams
Resolutions: Start own bakery (×). Launch traveling coffee shop (×). Make wine and grow clams (×, ×). Sell own truffles (×)...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Start own bakery (×).
Launch traveling coffee shop (×).
Make wine and grow clams (×, ×).
Sell own truffles (×).
Daydreams are one thing. It's a piece of cake to make a living baking petits fours for weddings when it's just a white-aproned, sugar-rimmed fantasy.
Reality means studying essential topics like business taxes, the merits of bags vs. boxes and which tents work best at farmers markets.
For many local foodies, reality means moonlighting. Plenty of folks have talent at the oven, stove or grill. Few have the extra money, guts (or health insurance) to leave the safe nest of a regular paycheck before testing their wings.
And so we meet people like Stephanie Hardgrave, a training coordinator at Boeing who also runs a bakery; Melissa Blake, a Tacoma legal assistant who operates a traveling coffee bus on weekends with her mom and daughter; Tom Horton, a Seattle advertising executive who grows shellfish and makes his own wine; and Renton's Anne Boyington, a longtime hostess at Seattle's Metropolitan Grill and now, truffle maker.
All have big plans. All take multitasking to a whole new level. All are having a blast.
No time to loaf
"You've got to have a persevering personality," said Hardgrave. She bakes three nights a week (strudel, cakes, pastries) to supply Little Luxuries, a bakery she runs with fellow moonlighter and fellow pastry-school alum Becky Johnson.
Seven hours in a hot kitchen after an eight-hour workday. Hours of hawking her baked goods at farmers markets on weekends. Hours of extra baking when big party orders roll in.
"I knew it was going to be a lot of work. But when you're hungry for it, it doesn't matter. It's like having a second or third wind," Hardgrave said.
It takes a certain level of hunger and energy to transform a penchant for pastry or knack for noodles into a viable business, said Howard Lev, founder of Seattle-based Mama Lil's Fine Condiments. He, too, started his now-profitable pickled pepper company on the side, while writing screenplays and driving a cab. Getting off the ground meant hours on his feet in grocery stores and festivals, coaxing passers-by to taste his mom's recipe with an arsenal of cringe-worthy lines: "A pepper for your thoughts?"
And then there are all the practical concerns: Permits to buy, loan payments on startup equipment, taxes to pay, finding a commercial kitchen, figuring out how to deliver, passing food-safety inspections, accurately forecasting demand, possibly hiring staff.
"You have to figure out how to make it profitable so you have enough encouragement to continue. Because the only thing that's going to give you courage is the possibility of a profit. And the reality of a profit is even more encouraging!" Lev said.
Finding a niche, he says, is a first step to success.
Shot Bus? Why not?
Blake thinks she found just that while roaming community festivals and car shows on weekends with her mom. "Why's it so hard to find a good cup of coffee?" they always wondered. They talked and talked about opening a mobile espresso business of their own. "Why don't you just do it?" Blake remembers her teenage daughter asking one day.
Really. Why not?
They pooled their money to buy an espresso machine and a 1948 GMC school bus from Craigslist. Friends stepped in to lend a hand: A fabrication-shop owner fixed up the bus, an artistic lawyer painted its curves eye-catching colors, the office water-delivery guy took care of their water needs. They practiced pulling espresso shots, making smoothies, brewing lemonade.
"All the pieces fell into place, so we just kept going," Blake said. And the Shot Bus was born.
They rumbled from festival to festival around Western Washington last summer and would have turned a profit if not for a broken generator . They already have gigs scheduled for the coming year, Blake said.
Success comes easier if you find your work interesting, Lev said. And curiosity is what drove Horton, founder of Seattle ad agency HL2, to experiment growing clams and oysters along the shellfish-rich shores of property he owns at Hammersley Inlet, Mason County.
"I like to grow things. I grew this advertising agency, right, but I also enjoy growing oysters down in Shelton, and I think that's the root of it. It's just fun to me."
He sells his shellfish to restaurants around the region. Then there's his winemaking hobby with buddy Dan Zadra, which he hopes to take commercial.
"I kind of figure a lot of people have been making wine for thousands of years. A lot of people have been growing shellfish for thousands of years. So with a little bit of basic reading and understanding, how hard can it be?"
Playing well with others isn't just a kindergarten concept. Lev says forging good relationships with fellow business owners pays off for everyone. Use bread from a friend's bakery for a product demonstration; they'll likely use your product the next time they sample their goods. Ask stores to save old packing peanuts to cut shipping costs. Honor your commitments. Look to those already in the business as your mentors.
That first hurdle
Boyington, creator of Trevani Truffles, makes a point to use ingredients (like fresh pear and ginger) from fellow vendors at the farmers markets where she sells her candy. Friends at work save fancy wine boxes for her that she uses in her market displays. Market operators try to give her spots that keep her chocolates out of direct sunlight.
"A lot of people have been really good about letting me pick their brain," said Boyington, who launched her business at the urging of her kids. She's faced a host of challenges, including the realization she can't offer all 16 truffle flavors at the same time (one customer ordered one of each, which meant making 16 separate batches to produce each of those solo candies). But one of the toughest was making that first phone call to the Renton Farmers Market to ask for space. That meant stepping out of her comfort zone and committing to the unknown.
"I think innately we know that there is a first phone call to make, there's a first step," she said. "What's really true is God can't steer a parked car. You can sit around thinking about doing something forever, and nothing happens until you take the first step," Boyington said.
With a taste of success, the year ahead looks — what else? — busy.
Find a permanent spot for the bakery ( ).
Run a cafe when the coffee bus is at rest ( ).
Start a cottage winery of reds and whites that pair well with shellfish ( ).
Open a chocolate shop ( ).
Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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