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advice - starting a baking business

LibbyBoo's picture

Needing advice from people who've been there...

A friend and I have been talking abou starting a small business. Small being the key word...we would work from our homes and have no employees.  We want to bake wedding/special event cakes and also offer cheesecakes, truffles and a few other select goodies for parties/events.

Problem is, neither of us has ever been to school for any kind of baking, culinary arts, food prep. etc.

We  both are self-taught, and if that disqualifies us from this board or from starting a business, it would be a shame...  still, I know it quite possibly could.

We both have FULLY stocked libraries (and increasing by the week) with books and magazines and articles on cooking, baking, decorating desserts, food science, etc. and we both have gotten several requests for not only our recipes but also for our services - right now, our small community knows they can call on us to provide them with any dessert or meal if they only provide the ingredients.

I say all this not to "strut my stuff" or to try and prove myself...I say all this because I honestly want to know - are we even close to being able to start our own business at this point? 

I a combination of experience + willingness to learn + limited literary resources enough?

Please understand I don't mean to ask for help with the "business side" of things.  My husband runs a business out of our home, and her husband went to school for business, and manages a restaurant right now, so we have that covered. (The accounting and books and such.) 

I just mean...are we going to 'flop' because we don't have degrees?  Are people going to ask this when they consider hiring us?  Are we going to have to keep our prices lower than most since we're self-taught? And do you honestly think we can gain enough knowledge from books to make desserts in a way that people are willing to pay big bucks for?  Would it be worth it to hold off on the business and to enroll in school? 

Also, keep in mind, we don't plan on offering a full menu...we are going to select 5 desserts and stick with that.  Does that benefit us or will that limit us?  Will people be turned off? Also, will our ovens work or would we have to invest in commercial ovens?

Also...please recommend any and all books you can that you think would help.

I really do appreciate the time you've taken to read this post and I appreciate any TRUE advice you can give me.

Please don't beat around the bush or sugar coat anything.  If starting this business is way out of my league, I'd like to save my time, money, and heart before I get into something that's going to claim them all.

Thank you in advance.

Edited 2/16/2006 10:32 am ET by LibbyBoo

tones's picture

(post #63862, reply #38 of 70)

Hi, Meanchef,  I remember reading a post of yours in which you mentioned some really bad luck along with health worries and I have been thinking of you and wishing the tide had turned for you.  I'm glad to see you back and hope (and even said a prayer for you) you feel everyone's good thoughts.  Only being a recent CTer, I still know how much everyone respects your culinary knowlege, and I know I have already learned from you.  Good luck!

JillElise's picture

(post #63862, reply #7 of 70)

You might find that local restaurants would also be interested in your desserts. Cookies at the coffee shop. Muffins. Easy stuff.

You can sometimes find industrial kitchens for rent. If you're lucky, you might find a place that has the baking equipment you need.

You can buy lots of equipment, go nuts letting everyone and their cat know you're around, and see what happens. Or, you can start slow, bake homemade pies for a local restaurant, and advertise your specialty cakes in a low-cost fashion. See where that takes you.

With a home based business, you can go at your own pace. Explore your market slowly, see if it is going to grow.

It's hard to make money - like someone said, you figure in your food cost, labour, the cost of kitchen, and voila! $4 for a slice of cake.

Do keep us posted.


Jill Elise Vancouver BC
AJ12754's picture

(post #63862, reply #15 of 70)

If you get the Food Network -- you might be interested in this. It is a show about starting up  food-related businesses.  I have only seen the show once but that episode was about someone starting a baking business.  It was far more work than I would ever have imagined and I thought the show did a really good job of showing everything that was involved.  I must say that you seem to have more of a handle on what's ahead than the young woman in the show I saw.

Anyway, this may be useful.  I hope so :-)

"Truth is the engine of our judicial system." Patrick Fitzgerald

Cave obdurationem cordis

CHandGreeson's picture

(post #63862, reply #31 of 70)

Wow, you've received some excellent advice!
You also might try approaching caterers to use your desserts. The best caterer here buys out for desserts from a local bakery.
Good luck and please let us know what transpires.

Shaye's picture

(post #63862, reply #32 of 70)

I don't have any experience in the professional food side of things, but I can tell you that our chamber of commerce offers help to people who are thinking about starting a small business. They have several business people from the community who will look over your plan and offer tips and suggestions. You might call your C of C and see if they have a similar program.

elizaram's picture

(post #63862, reply #33 of 70)

"You might call your C of C and see if they have a similar program."

Oh yes, and check here too:

Edited 2/18/2006 12:17 pm by elizaram

When I was young, all my friends were imaginary. Now that I'm older, all my friends are virtual.

Ricks503's picture

(post #63862, reply #39 of 70)

Also check out the Small Business Administration - they often have classes/seminars on a wide range of topics for people who are looking at starting a business.

1 - measure the board twice, 2 - cut it once, 3 - measure the space where it is supposed to go        4 - get a new board and go back to step 1



" There'll be no living with her now" - Captain Jack Sparrow

burger's picture

(post #63862, reply #40 of 70)

I'm sorry to read that any of you are undergoing physical problems......

Just to add my two cents: I think the best way to make some money baking is to work for someone else. There's always a local bakery or caterer that needs some help. If you work for them you make a profit and get to do what you love. When you work for yourself you become more of a sales person/business person then a cook/baker.

ouzo's picture

(post #63862, reply #37 of 70)


A couple points for you: Your business  won't fail solely because you haven't been to culinary school.  If you want to start small and are limiting your offerings, then invest in your business.  It's a tough business to make it in.  I respect all who can do it and those who have tried.  I envy anyone who's been to culinary school .

Don't count on restaurants as customers: The company I work for has two 'brewpubs' that are always busy.  Our kitchen managers don't make their own desserts, they don't buy them fresh and never will.  They buy frozen desserts because they are cheaper and come from the supplier who is already bringing us other kitchen staples.  These desserts aren't good.  I am confident that anyone reading this message board could do better,  but our diners don't care.  They just want something sweet, even if it is junk.  They've already had a few beers, an appetizer and a main dish, and wouldn't recognize a well made dessert, so we don't offer them.  We charge in the $4 to $6 range for these 'desserts'.  It would be hard for you to compete against the economies of scale that a supplier like Sysco enjoys.   A lot of people dine in restaurants of the caliber of my company's. 

Health board/professional kitchen:  For a time, a friend of mine attempted to sell her own pasta sauce (which was very good, btw).  To comply with local health regs,  she had to use a professional kitchen.  Her finished product was so much better than, but about three times  the cost, of a jar of Newman's Own or Prego.  Fortunately, she didn't have much invested in this venture.  Once again, the economies of scale were difficult to over come. 

Cover all of your costs: A neighbor of mine has a catering business and it has been a successful venture for her for the last few years. Though she is not the sole breadwinner for her family, she does well.  Your original post, gives me the impression that you want more than a token side thing.  Anyway, she is successful at it because she offers everything to her clients - menu planning, the full meal prep, including the shopping, serving the meal and clean up.  She charges by the hour - not by the job.  Her main strength is that she's compulsively organized and neat, but she has no culinary training. .  She's successful because she is able to allow her clients to relax and serve a nice meal to their guests in their own homes. 

You sound determined.  Good luck to you! 

  No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted - Aesop, The Lion & the mouse

Ballottine's picture

(post #63862, reply #54 of 70)

You can do it, if you really really want to.  If  you don’t want/can’t invest money  into your business;  time, patience and planning may help.  Here is my favorite example:


Arguably, the best caterer in Washington DC area is Susan Gage.  Years ago she was a stay at home mom with a degree in psychology.  She started baking birthday cakes for her kid and her friends’ kids. Soon she started charging for her cakes and every penny she earned she “invested” in her “business.”    She paid cash for everything.


She started working out of her house, lwhen she had enough money, she bought a warehouse near her home, and converted it into a professional kitchen. Even though she can have all the credit she may need, she continues to pay cash for everything, including  every truck in her fleet and other equipment.


Her advertising budged has always been $0. Recently, I was amazed to learn that now she finally has a website. A few years ago her affairs started at $10, 000.00. (Who knows what she charges now!) Everything she does is perfect.  Over the years, I was privileged to attend a number of affairs catered by her company.  What a treat!!!  She is gooooood. (Alas, these were “business affairs,” where “powers that are” and “powers wannabe” were courting each other, their spouses were dieting, most of them never realized that they were missing an opportunity to taste wonderful food.)


Susan Gage does not have a degree from a cooking school, and unlike Martha, she is a very nice person.  She used to run her business with the help of a friend, who was not a partner, but a very well paid executive. I am using past tense because I have not been following her career lately.  Bal


Here is a blurb from her website:

Susan Gage began her catering career creating parties for friends from her home in suburban Washington. A self-taught chef, Susan initially catered with several friends in her local community, using her home kitchen as a base. She started her own company in 1986. Today, with no advertising other than the reports of many satisfied clients, Susan Gage Caterers is a seven-day-a-week enterprise with more than 1500 parties yearly and $7 million in annual sales.

The company, located in Oxon Hill, MD, now operates out of a 20,000 square foot facility which includes a full commercial kitchen, sales offices, warehouse, a fleet of vehicles and more than 75 full-time employees. Susan Gage Caterers continues to rely on those qualities that made her business successful from its start in 1986 - extraordinary food, meticulous planning, and thoughtful, professional service.

The company's slow and careful growth over the years has allowed it to give the same attention to detail for parties for more than one thousand people that it gives to intimate dinner parties. Susan Gage Caterers works with the best florists, musicians, tent companies, and party planners to assure that all facets of your event will be well served. Our team of professionals is dedicated to providing a level of quality that is unmatched in the Washington, D.C. area.









So much to cook; so little time.


So much to cook; so little time.