Sunday, April 7, 2013

Entrepreneurship: Never Wanting to Work for Another

Interview with Esty Hirsch
Whimsical Confections - Your Imagination. Our Creation.

With Kathryn Gordon and Jessie Riley

Jessie:  How did you learn to bake?

Esty:   Like many others, who started baking as a child, I loved to watch my mom bake as I was growing up. My mother was into baking and also liked to try new ideas and designs,  My siblings loved to practice on the Wilton Practice board while I, the youngest tried to mimic the shells and scrolls. I also felt I was born with the gift of being artistically talented.  Play dough was one of the things I loved to create food items with starting at a really young age.

At about the age of 10, I was looking through one of the Woman's World magazines, and was astounded to see a featured backgammon or checkers game made out of cake! That photo really inspired me and I had to try to recreate that edible art piece on my own.

As the years went by one of my favorite places to shop was the NY Cake and Art supply store, and so the collection of baking supplies started growing, and I loved experimenting on new recipes and new ideas.

Kathryn:  I first met you when you took some classes at ICE. Do you take a lot of classes?

Esty:  I am always on the look out to learning new techniques or at least trying to create some on my own. I think people always look for something new or something that has never been seen.  Hands-on cookie decorating classes for birthdays, bridal showers, etc. are also always helpful in keeping updated with the latest trends. We now teach our own classes. We bake the dough, bring the icing, and I teach people how to decorate their own cookies.

Jessie:  How did you decide to start your own business?

Esty:  I always wanted to run my own business, never wanting to work for another soul. It started out with selling to friends and family. I think that is a good thing, because it took a while to gain professionalism in a lot of different aspects and this was a good trial and error period for me.  I also started offering hands on baking classes and that has been a hit ever since, and for all age groups.

Kathryn:  Knowing that you are Kosher, has it been a challenge, not being able to taste foods prepared in classes at culinary schools you have attended?

Esty:  I did not really find the non-kosher pastry classes being a challenge (aside for being able to taste). I mostly knew how to recreate the recipes in a kosher version and the chefs were very helpful if I had a question regarding substitution of ingredients.

I think if I would have taken on the culinary challenge, versus artistic baking, then it would be much greater of a challenge do to the many diversified ingredients used as opposed to pastry where mostly neutral ingredients like eggs, flour and sugar etc. are used.

Jessie:  From a baking perspective, to make everything parve (non-dairy) – how difficult has that been?

Esty:  At first some of the substitutions were difficult because I did find that by using other ingredients the batters or specific cupcakes did not at first come out as moist or tasty, and it did take a while of experimenting.  There are plenty of kosher bakeries, but I would not really think of contacting them for help because my bakery is a very specialty type bakery as opposed to the regular kosher bakeries who mostly produce items in bulk and I assume don’t produce a lot of products from scratch.

Kathryn:  Can you tell us about your Rabbinical Certification?

Esty: The Rabbinical supervision was difficult to obtain because there are so many kosher supervisions out there, and most communities tend to rely on their local Rabbinical supervision unless it is a well known supervision that many communities rely on So making a decision was difficult but we did land on the right decision and we comply with all of the kosher standard rules that are required.

Jessie:  How do you market your business? 

Esty:  We don’t spend a lot on print advertising, and mostly drive new sales via the web, word of mouth and Facebook.

Facebook is all inclusive: great word of mouth/web advertizing.  A big percentage of our clients are repeat customers, especially when it comes to a personal occasion like a birthday party or a specific holiday where we know to expect calls from these repeat clients.

See Whimisical Confections, Brooklyn page on Facebook

Kathryn:  Do you deliver?  I imagine the cookies are easier than the cupcakes, whoopie pies, etc.

Esty:  I ship, or the clients have an option of picking up the order or we deliver for a minimal fee.

Jessie:  What’s new or trending for Whimsical Confections now?

Esty:  There are always new trends. One year it was stacked custom wedding cookies, now it’s the Chevron design on the custom cookies and the trend of adding bling to the very tasty French macaron.

Jessie:  Have you experienced demand for other gluten free decorated cookies (besides French macarons)?

Esty:  Regarding allergy related baked goods, we know there are many people looking for the specific gluten free product, but because we are so small we are mostly trying to keep up with latest trend requests and of course make everything from scratch using the most pure, natural and local ingredients available.

Kathryn:  What’s next for you and your staff?

Esty: I have been trying to determine if I want to focus more on teaching classes and have my staff decorate cookies.  Cookie sales are somewhat cyclical given holidays, etc.  I am also looking to understand my food costs better and optimize our kitchen design, and when we get a chance given the cookie demand, to do a bit of remodeling.  We have outgrown our current freezer and refrigeration space, and need to reorganize.  I am also trying to redo our website, but I keep getting too busy!

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