Interview with Katalina’s Bakery Owner Kathy Riegelmann
New Haven, CT
By Kathryn Gordon and Jessie Riley
Jessie: Kathy, you have a pretty big space here! How did you get started with your bakery business and find this particular location?
Kathy: Several years ago I had a coffee shop in the area, so I knew people and people knew me. I had been taking baking classes and was interested in getting back into the food business. Yale University had begun a local economic development program to generate more foot traffic in this neighborhood near the campus. There were some new schools and dorms nearby, and they were looking for a cupcake type business so Yale helped me to find this space.
Kathy: Yes. Yale is like a partner in that they paid for the commercial architect. The construction bids went to Yale, and the university arranged the build out for $150K, and arranged my loan. Yale takes a percentage over my break-even rent each month. They have been motivated to support several other local businesses in this way because they want this neighborhood to be vibrant.
Jessie: That’s a great opportunity! How many days a week are you open?
Kathy: Currently we are open 6 days a week, but we are planning to expand our hours until later at night for the students and to open on Sundays because the families in the neighborhood have been making it a destination location. I am also taking out a small loan to remodel the back retail area and have a tea counter, and add in loose teas for purchase by the pound.
Kathryn: Looking around the front counter, you have a frequent buyer type card system here. Can you tell us about it?
Kathy: We are working with a new automated rewards card system called “Spot On” (www.spoton.com). It allows me to learn about our customer base through a loyalty card system tied to social media reporting.
Jessie: With the “neighborhood focus,” you have a nice space with room for more chairs and tables. Are you planning to fill that in more?
Kathy: Actually, no. You can get wireless internet (Yale) access here but I do not want Katalina’s to become a free parlour (like Starbuck’s) for people to sit around in all day. We’d rather turnover the tables. That’s why I am trying to expand my menu in terms of what appeals to different customers buying at different times of the day.
Kathryn: We came here today to offer a hands-on macaron baking class. I know you already have regular baking classes, and host birthday parties; are you planning to expand the school part of your business?
Kathy: Yes, we’d like to. We have a good open production area. I can even hear what’s happening at the front retail counter when I am in the back, and go back and forth if I need to.
Jessie: Are you here baking personally every day?
Kathy: At the moment, yes. But I have staff and I am not here all day! I still teach at a local fitness center and coach my son’s hockey team (I’m a single parent). Being in touch with the local athletics world gives me access to our customer base, and helps get me out there. I have also been able to develop some catering contacts that way.
Kathryn: Are you happy with your branding? Do you think that has helped you attract more outside business?
Kathy: Yes, and I think the bakery has become successful because local people recognize the logo.
Kathryn: I see that you do both catering and decorated cakes here.
Kathy: Yes. I have an assistant Briana who is mind blowing in terms of cake decorating. I am not as proficient; I don’t have enough patience. We are doing more catering however. For example, I was recently approached by the New Haven Symphony. People know I am a food snob and believe in only good ingredients – and I will not compromise.
Jessie: That must help drive up your food costs!
Kathy: My sister helps with the accounting. I know that we cover our costs and are able to put some money in the bank each month. I’m not yet paying myself a salary because I am still earning money teaching at the gym. I don’t have a precise handle on food costs. But the customers have no problem putting their money down for good product. Grad students have more funds than undergraduates, though!
Kathryn: Thank you Kathy, I can’t wait to eat a cupcake!