Every food-lover has had her career fantasy: caterer, vintner, cookie-maker extraordinaire. Meet 3 FOFs who took the plunge and made their culinary passions their . . . work. Is the reality of owning a fantasy food business really a dream come true? 3 FOFs dish it out.
FOF Kathleen White, Age 56
Owner of Speechless Cakes, a goat cheesecake bakery
Goat cheesecake!? How did you get into that?
Well…. I love goat cheese, I thought, what to do with goat’s milk? Why not cheesecake? I changed the recipe a lot, gave slices to my friends. Everyone loved it. Who knew?
What did you do before you started Speechless Cakes?
I was a professional dancer for 25 years in Los Angeles and New York. I did Broadway, print and commercial television work. In 1990, my life changed forever. I was exposed to Viral Meningo-Encephalitis; a debilitating illness. I slipped into an eleven-day coma. The result of the illness: I have trouble speaking. As part of my rehabilitation, my doctor recommended I go back to grad school. I moved to Healdsburg in Sonoma Valley, near to San Jose State, where I pursued a Masters in theatre arts. The town is known for its food, wine, friends and scenery. The folks in town let me in, and I made many friends. It was the perfect place to start Speechless Cakes.
Wow…amazing story. What have been the biggest obstacles?
I was not a business person… I was a professional dancer. I went to the Economic Development Coordinator in the City of Healdsburg. He helped me with the jargon that I didn’t know. He helped me analyze my plan’s S.W.O.T. (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats). I learned if you want to apply for loans or a grant, you must have a business plan.
Any advice for women starting their own fantasy food careers?
If you love food….do it! Start small. Work the farmer’s market or restaurants in town. I have 7″ cakes, 4″ cakes and goat bites. That’s all. And don’t forget the business plan.
How did you get into culinary tours?
My husband is French so we took annual treks to France. Fourteen years ago, we had a choice… put a pool into our house in Connecticut or buy a home in France. So we bought a house in Provence and I fell in love with France. I wanted to show people what I saw and teach them to cook, so I started giving tours. We give 4 tours to about ten or eleven people each year. We show them the Marché, restaurants, and we lead honey, cheese, olive and cooking classes.
What prepared you for this “dream job”?
When I was 15, I was a cook at Howard Johnson. Then I went to the Culinary Institute of America. I was one of the first women to train there. When I got out of culinary school everyone wanted me to work the pantry. They didn’t believe I could work the hot side of the kitchen. I was strong willed and carried on. I’ve owned Good News restaurant for 17 years. I’m used to being a leader. Being a chef prepares you to handle people and tell them what to do.
Your job sounds like a dream… Is it as amazing? Or just a lot of hard work?
I definitely enjoy what I do or I wouldn’t have done it for so long. I meet interesting people from all over; some have become good friends. But you can’t go in thinking just because you like to entertain you’re going to love this. There’s more to it: organization, cleaning, prepping. You are responsible for 8-10 people for a whole week. People say, “This is so much work for you!” For me, it doesn’t feel like work. If you’ve owned a restaurant, it’s like a vacation.
FOF Barbara Beery, Age 55
Owner of Batter Up Kids! and children’s cookbook author
How did you start teaching kids cooking classes?
I was teaching preschool and money was tight. I was racking my brain for other sources of income. A friend said to me, “You always teach cooking to your own kids and to mine. You should make a business of it.” I started teaching 1-2 classes per week. It snowballed. I went through several years teaching preschool five days per week, cooking classes in the afternoon and birthday parties on the weekends. My life was rich, let me put it that way.
Now you are considered an expert in kids cooking and consulting for Uncle Ben’s Rice, Kellogg’s and Sun-Maid Raisins. What was the turning point?
I started writing kids cook books. My third book, The Pink Princess Cookbook put me on the map. It has sold 600,000 copies and has increased my visibility and credbility.
What advice would you give to other women interested in starting a dream culinary business like yours?
Dream big but start small. Little mistakes are easier to fix than large ones. I have done both. Most of my friends say, “Why in the world, at this point in your life, would you do this?” And I say, “Why would I retire?” This is a great time for me. But everyone is different. When you love something, it doesn’t always seem like work.