Thursday, March 21, 2013

Interview with Samantha Ward, Chef/Owner Exquisite Desserts

Interview with Samantha Ward
Knowing How to Bake is Not Enough
Chef/Owner Exquisite Desserts

By Kathryn Gordon

Kathryn:  Sam, I’ve known you from various pastry industry events since probably 1999! I know in that timeframe, you've opened your own business in Palm Desert California.  I haven’t been able to come out and visit, so can you tell us about it?

Sam:  I’ve been open for about 13 years.  I have 3200 square feet, with about 1000 square feet for retail and the remainder for production. 

I have 6 full time employees, 3 part time and we’re open 7 days a week.  Many of my employees have been with me from the beginning.  We’re a full service, from scratch bakery, including wholesale work, specialty desserts and wedding cakes.

Kathryn:  How many days a week do you work yourself?

Sam:  7!  Actually, I go in 6 days for production, and use the 7th day to get myself organized for the next week.   The bakery is 12 minutes from my house, so that helps.

Kathryn:  Did you always want to have your own business?

Sam:  Yes, I did.  My dream started when I was working in San Francisco after finishing culinary school.  My mother passed away and I saved the inheritance I received.  This business is my mom’s blessing to me.

Kathryn:  Did you write a business plan? 

Sam:  No, I never did.  I’m more of the flighty, artistic, social type!  I am still learning how to be a better business person.  My key to success has been my perseverance and determination.

Kathryn:  You have a very extensive menu, compared to other bakeries!

Sam:  Actually, the published menu is only a fraction of what we really do.  Primarily, I am the personal pastry chef to many of the top country clubs in this area.  I work off of my repertoire, but produce whatever they want and need for their clients, so it is continuously evolving.

When I first came to Palm Desert, the clubs were getting their product wholesale from large frozen-dessert manufacturing companies.  Only about 3% had in-house pastry chefs.  There was a clear need to offer an alternative to mass-produced frozen desserts.

It really helps to research your competition.  There was originally one competitor, but they couldn’t keep up with the demand.  The choice to open my business among so many country clubs was an obvious one.

Kathryn:  How were you able to become acquainted with all of the country club chefs?

Sam:  Actually, I joined the American Culinary Federation.  Most of the country club chefs were members, and they were my target market.  There isn’t too much turnover within the country club staffs – the executive chef jobs are lucrative.  However, the club members can be demanding, so I’m in an intermediary position to produce exactly what the executive chefs need to successfully satisfy their clients.

Essentially, I am in service to the chefs and not directly to the country club members.  The success of my business has been the result of word-of-mouth.

Kathryn:  What percentage of your business would you say is wholesale?

Sam:  It has fluctuated over the years.   Probably in the first 7 years we were open, 75% was wholesale.  Now with my upcoming retail location, Exquisite Desserts’ name is better known, and it’s balanced.  This is helpful because the country club market is very seasonal with peak business taking place from November to May.

Kathryn:  What sector have you seen the highest growth in?

Sam:  Definitely the retail cake and wedding cake market.  Last year, between October and November, we did 45 weddings!   Weddings can account for 40% of our profit.

Kathryn:  Have you seen any trends in the wedding market?

Sam:  Petite pastries and dessert bars in place of cakes have been a big seller this year. 

Kathryn:  You recently took on a specialty cake decorator, so you wouldn’t have to do the large cakes all yourself? 

Sam:  Yes, she’s a real go-getter and does beautiful work.

Kathryn:  When you take a cake order, do you charge a deposit?

Sam:  I request $150 down and payment in full 2 weeks prior to the event.  It only didn’t work out one time – it was a project for a minor celebrity, and I had to take them to small claims court before I received payment.

Kathryn:  What counts more, appearances or taste?

Sam:  It took me a long time to develop my desserts so that they taste delicious and are also well-decorated, and I have to protect that.  People shop with their eyes and as such it’s important to invest in quality photographs of the product – but people don’t just care about the outside of the cake.  A great pastry chef knows how to bake, and the result is great-tasting product.  That brings customers back, and that’s how I’ve stayed busy.

Kathryn:  What do you mean, exactly, by protecting?

Sam:  No one person in your employment should know every aspect of your entire business.  Otherwise you could be creating your own competition.

Kathryn:  Is there anything you wish you were doing differently?

Sam: I would like to be more tech-savy.  I could be 3 times as busy if I utilized internet exposure. The market is increasingly digital, and the first place people go to find things is the internet.

Kathryn:  What other advice would you give to someone trying to open a brick and mortar bakery?

Sam:  Have money to invest.  It isn’t enough to be skilled and know your market.  I had $60K to open but it would take a lot more these days.  Things were easier when we began, but it’s not as simple to just open a business any more.  Everything has become more expensive.  I was lucky that my husband could help with the physical construction, which saved $100,000 in costs.  So marry a handyman!
Kathryn: Thank you Sam, speak to you soon! 

Want to Learn More About Our Expanded Services? Visit  Us At Food Start Up Help

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Dosha Pops

Dosha Pops

Batches Made With Love

Interview with Peggy Andrews

By Kathryn Gordon 

Kathryn Peggy, how did you get the idea for your business?  I know a bit about Ayurveda because I've traveled to India and know it involves balancing food intake for body types, but can you explain a bit more?

Peggy:  Dosha Pops are the love child of my passion for food and my latest lifestyle change to achieve physical and spiritual balance through Ayurveda.  Ayurveda is the 5,000 year old science of life.  The inspiration came from years of striving to balance a legal career with social justice volunteering and still maintain a rewarding personal life.

I embarked upon the practice of yoga and meditation, a pathway that eventually led to exploring holistic natural healthcare, and an Ayurveda lifestyle. One of the primary components of my Ayurvedic lifestyle is daily consumption of herbal teas.

Still wanting to indulge, I started crafting these artisanal lollipops with Ayurvedic herbs, spices and teas. Realizing that others want a healthier candy indulgence too, I created Dosha Pops.

Kathryn:  Is there a specific significance in the name?

Peggy:  The name Dosha Pops came to me as soon as I thought of creating Ayurvedic herbal tea lollipops.

Ayurveda asserts that each individual contains a unique combination of doshas or energies. According to Ayurveda, the 5 elements of nature  (space, air, fire, water and earth) combine in the body as these 3 doshas known as Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Ayurveda focuses on balancing these doshas for optimal physical, mental and spiritual health.  Ayurveda focuses on balancing these doshas for optimal physical, mental and spiritual health. 

My lollipops are made of herbal teas, spices and herbs that are meant to balance your dosha. Hence the name Dosha Pops was born.

Kathryn:  It’s pretty unusual, to mix in tea, spice and herbs when you cook sugar syrups (which tend to crystallize with “add ins.”)  What else makes your lollipops different from others?

Peggy: What makes Dosha Pops unique is that they are designed with ingredients you need to balance your unique dosha.  Figuring out which of the Dosha Pops are best for you boils down to your unique doshic energy type.

You can take the “Dosha Pops test” at

Kathryn:  What kind of spices do you use, and how many flavors do you offer?

Peggy:  Our herbal tea recipes blend the flavors of these different botanicals with the most highly regarded Ayurveda spices- such as turmeric, ginger and cardamom to name a few - resulting in a variety of herbal infusions that are great for your health and taste great too!

We have 6 flavors including:
1.                  Chai Me Up which is made of organic sugar, holy basil tea with chai spices and toasted coconut flakes
2.                  Velvet Rope which is made of organic sugar and chicory root tea
3.                  Inner Glow which is made with organic sugar, turmeric root tea, ginger and lemon
4.                  Mytea Pomegranate is made with organic sugar, rooibos tea and pomegranate 
5.                  Head Over Hibiscus is made with organic sugar and hibiscus flower tea 
6.                  Wishful Pinking is made with organic sugar, pink rose tea and a dusting of rose petal powder

Kathryn:  After prototyping at home, you found a unique commercial kitchen space.  I visited you there soon after you had set up.  How is the production going now that you have a regular production schedule?

Peggy:  I found the perfect commercial kitchen space for a small startup business. My kitchen is at an Ayurvedic Institute and Yoga studio. It’s an open kitchen space. There is a storage room that I share with a small Bed & Breakfast hotel that is upstairs. During the mornings the hotel uses the kitchen space to serve continental breakfast. I use the kitchen after breakfast on weekends.

Production is still very small batch.  The kitchen space has given me the opportunity to learn how to increase production in a legal space, devote my evenings to marketing efforts for the company, and be able to grow with the demand for Dosha Pops. 

Kathryn:  You ordered custom silicon lollipop molds from the Chicago Mold Making School.  I know you were a bit hesitant about the prototype because of the expense – but you couldn't find anything on the ready-made-market that worked for your product.  Do you like the molds?

Peggy:   The silicone molds are wonderful!  They are much more durable than my old plastic molds. Additionally, I don’t have to oil the silicon molds. My custom molds have given me the opportunity to add the Dosha Pops logo, which is the tea leaf. I chose the tea leaf because my lollipops are made from herbal teas. Plus the tea leaf keeps my branding consistent.

Kathryn:   How did you go about finding the kitchen space?   And is it working, to share the space with a hotel in terms of storage, ingredients, production space? 

Peggy:  I let everyone know that I was looking for a commercial kitchen space. My Ayurveda doctor, Michael Ferranti, suggested my current kitchen space. 

It’s a tight fit but so far its been working for me. My inventory is kept on dedicated storage and refrigerator shelves versus the hotel. I’m a pretty small business so I don’t need much space.  For the lollipops, I store infusions in the refrigerator and sugar bins hold my dry storage

The kitchen is an open space to the public. The advantage of the open kitchen space is that people can see me making Dosha Pops, which is great advertising. The disadvantage is that people try to talk to me while I’m making Dosha Pops, which can be distracting.

Kathryn:  You’re selling now in some yoga studios and boutiques; if people want to order your lollipops, how do they contact you?

Peggy:  The Dosha Pops web-site should be live by next month. In the meantime, you can purchase Dosha Pops by emailing me at or through

Kathryn:  Thank you Peggy, and good luck with your unique product.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Hot Bread Kitchen

Wholesale, Retail and Incubator Space
Hot Bread Kitchen

Interview with Kathryn Gordon, Jeff Yoskowitz and Jessie Riley

Food Start Up Help recently visited Hot Bread Kitchen, and met with Molly Crossin (Communications & Development Director) and CBO (Chief Bread Officer) Ben Hershberger for a tour.   Hot Bread Kitchen is located in Spanish Harlem’s historic La Marqueta at 115th Street and Park Avenue, and is open Monday – Saturday 8 am – 6 pm.  Visit their website, to learn more about their artisan products, on-the-job training programs, and community events.


Kathryn:  Hi Ben, I haven’t seen you since you were at Per Se.  And now you’re here, in Hot Bread Kitchen!  Molly, it’s nice to meet you!  Can you tell us about Hot Bread Kitchen?

Molly:  Our mission is to increase economic security for foreign born and low income people.  We work with the community through:  on-the-job training programs to work with our bakers and produce wholesale/retail breads, and also offer an incubator commercial kitchen space available for lease by entrepreneurs. 

Kathryn:  Ben, what are the differences from working in a traditional production kitchen and here, where you do production but also are a training program at the same time? 

Ben:  It’s challenging, but I love it.  In the outside world, I had complete control over who was hired, and fired.  Here, we work with people to figure out how we can train them for future, outside jobs.  I figure out who’s best suited for what tasks.  For instance, some people are excellent at shaping breads while others are really good at the actual baking of the product.

Jessie:  I see that you have some great training/kitchen organization materials here for the trainees.  How long do the trainees work, here at Hot Bread Kitchen?

<!--[if !vml]--><!--[endif]-->

Molly:  There is no typical length of time.  For some it’s a year, for others many years. 

Kathryn:  And besides the production facility, you also have a classroom.  You have lots of great bread books here!

Molly:  We do counseling, and English-language classes.  It’s very one-on-one with each of our trainees.  Someone is having a review right now, in fact.

Jeff:  How often do you take on new trainees?

Ben:  I’m evaluating one today.  She’s working in the shaping room, and just came to me through our application process.  So far, she’s picking it up well.  I have to look at how someone “fits into the team,” and how quickly they can pick up a particular skill to determine if they are a good fit.

Right now, they are all shaping bialys.

Kathryn:  I see spiral mixers, proofer/retarders and other bread making equipment I recognize, but I don’t recognize all the equipment!  Can you tell us what’s new in the kitchen?

Ben:  This is our tortilla production line.   We just got a machine for the corn nixtamalization – which is the process to treat corn with lime to increase its nutritional content. 

Jeff:  Where do you source your ingredients?

Ben:  We try to work with organic and local ingredients when I can.  I am getting some of my corn and flours from western NY State.  It’s good:  the bakers learn how to interact with the dough and evaluate the hydration, because the flours vary between deliveries.  They learn more that way, which is useful when they get outside jobs.

Jessie:  Molly, can you tell us about the incubator kitchen facility?

Molly:  We work with up to 50 clients at a time here, and offer incubator client workshops to help support them.  The application process and rates is outlined on our website,  In addition, we lease to a certain number of commercial clients; they have to be “up and running” before they can apply here, with a developed product and a bit of a customer base. 

You can also take a virtual tour of the facility on the website.
<!--[if !vml]--><!--[endif]-->

Jessie:  Thank you so much for the tour and your time!