Monday, October 29, 2012

From Farmer's Market to Macy's

Interview with Kathleen Escamilla-Hernandez

By Kathryn Gordon and Jeff Yoskowitz of

Kathryn:  Hi Kathleen, you’ve come a long ways since you started at ICE (Institute of Culinary Education) as my student 2 ½ years ago!   We’re very excited. Is it true you just got your first purchase order to sell your Cocoamains macarons at the Macy’s flagship store in Manhattan?

Kathleen:   Yes!  It was interesting to be in the negotiations with such a large customer.  Prior to this, I was selling my macarons and other baked goods at a farmers’ market!   I loved the farm market and meeting my customers directly – but this is a fantastic next step for my business. I do plan though, to continue selling at the farmer’s market in the spring.

Jeff:  You began at a farmer’s market in NJ earlier this year. Can you talk about that process?

Kathleen:  The farmer’s market debut allowed me to pull together my business structure.  When I first started at ICE, I was looking to do something in baking that was creative since I formerly designed children’s wear.   I didn't know precisely what I wanted to do, but I loved pastry and it was a creative outlet from the stress of my former career.  The opportunity to sell on weekends at the farmer’s market came along, and I took the plunge.  I also started to do some dessert catering.   It helps to have a supportive husband, who is also a graphic designer!  At first, I wasn't sure what would sell and I offered pound cakes, madeleines and macarons.  The macarons sold out immediately! 

Process wise, I had to file my LLC, get a trademark, have the website developed, do my Serv Safe certification (which you can do entirely online through -- it’s very interesting!), obtain general liability insurance, complete the mandatory paperwork to sell at a farmer’s market, find a commercial kitchen to work in, develop my macaron formula, flavors and prices, buy a tent, and create signage, flyers and business cards!  At that point, I didn’t yet need packaging.  

All summer, I was baking all night, working from 4 am to 2 pm for my regular job, and getting 4 hours sleep.   However, it was a fantastic way to work out the kinks, make money, allow clientele to get to know my product and also allow me to get feedback on my product.

A friend of mine said:  "You don't go to the farmer’s market to make money - you go to promote your product."  But I told him you go to do both or else why bother going if you don't make money?

Jeff:  When do you launch at Macy’s?

Kathleen:  We just opened at Macy’s Cucina and Co. earlier this week.  We gave away free macarons from 11 am until 2 pm!

Currently I am working on my display case – I can create whatever I want in terms of macaron cakes, gift baskets, etc.  It’s a lot of fun.  I like figuring out how to make lacquered display macarons look as realistic and beautiful as the edible ones!

Kathryn:  Originally the Macy’s Department Buyer for Cucina and Co. wanted you to just have fresh, loose “grab and go” macarons available for purchase out of their refrigerated case?  

Kathleen:  Yes, but then a Macy’s Vice President decided that he wanted to offer gift boxes.  There was a bit of going back and forth.  We decided to do both, and now, my custom boxes are being created.  When we open, there will be 2 sizes of macarons available in 8 flavors:  large and Cocoamain’s mini Mac Poppers!  Pre-packaged Cocoamains gift boxes will be available for the holidays which is great, because a lot of people shop at Macy’s and it’s located so conveniently to Penn Station that commuters can pop in and pick up a present!  We’re all hoping that the eye-catching appeal of macarons will do the trick!

Jeff:  What makes your macarons different from other macarons, Kathleen? 

Kathleen:  I respond to my feedback from my customers and offer fresh, accessible flavors.  I have some popular standard flavors (5) and will rotate in (3) others seasonally.   For example, the Macy’s buyer mentioned that she would like to attract customers at breakfast time – and I turned around and gave her my cinnamon raisin twist macaron with cream cheese filling.  It’s absolutely delicious, especially with morning coffee!  So I have flavors that appeal throughout the day to consumers.

Cocoamains offers American theme flavors in appealing colors.   Compared to other macaron start ups, my texture is soft and my flavors are “bumped up.”  The large size fits into someone’s palm in an appealing way like the size of a cupcake.  The mini Mac Poppers are cute, and allows someone to sample all the flavors.

JeffKathleen, where do you do your production?

Kathleen:  I was working in one commercial kitchen in NJ but I am switching to a larger, brand new facility that lets me rent time on a monthly basis.  I just signed that contract.  I had outgrown the freezer space in the first kitchen.

Kathryn:  How will you transport your macarons to Macy’s?

Kathleen:  As an approved vendor, we have a wide range of hours we can unload at the loading dock from even as early as 5 am.  I plan to arrive early to avoid city traffic, and will be able to bring the macarons straight from my commercial kitchen facility up to the refrigerated case at Macy’s Cucina and Co.  

Kathryn:  What’s one of the biggest lessons you learnt between finishing at ICE as a pastry & baking student and becoming an entrepreneur?

Kathleen:   When your instructors tell you to practice piping, they mean it!  On my first day of externship at Bouchon Bakery, I piped their signature Bouchons for 12 hours.  I had recently had a carpal tunnel operation and there was nothing like that much piping to bring back my hand strength.  I will be hand piping my own macarons until I can justify a depositor, since I am now so fast at piping!

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