Bakers Gon' Bake

Well folks, it’s time to get real. Life is going to do it’s own thing no matter what plans we make for it. As most of you know (I say most but it’s probably all because the only people who read this are my family and friends!!) I had big dreams to open my bakery once we moved here to Portland. This was the time. Jordan took a full-time job and we left our beloved New York to head back West and sink some roots. Well let me tell you how those best-laid plans have unfolded.

When we first got here, I got us unpacked and settled, but then hit the ground running, scouting out locations and competition. I made a Google map of of bakeries and cafes/coffee shops that baked their own goods. I color coded them based on level of competition - not in a way of who was better or worse, but by specialty - if they only sold vegan items, they would perhaps make a small dent in vegan sales but not necessarily overall. I reached out to a real estate agent and made an appointment to view a space with my mom who was coming down to help me get things rolling. We viewed it. It would be a ton of work and I wasn’t sure about the neighborhood but the price was good and there was potential. What’s the harm in pursuing it? Little did I know that I was lucky someone even showed me a space without proving that I had financing (I didn’t) or a business plan (I didn’t - FYI, business dreams made of family recipes, Stars Hollow, and a heart that aches to bake do not count as a business plan). However, she told me she loved my passion and concept, and that she would tell the owner about me. In the meantime, I should go home and fine-tune my business plan with proposed changes to the building and a list of TIs I wanted (Tenant Improvements, not the popular rap artist, in case you were in the dark like me). It’s also important note that she said ‘fine-tune’ my plan because she was under the assumption that I had one...well, because I told her a had a base layer (or some ridiculous version of that, whatever I said, it was a bold-faced lie). She also wanted a financial plan - what I planned to spend on construction, start-up costs, monthly expenses, etc., what I would contribute and what I expected to get from a loan. Oh, and three years of projections. I thought ‘well, $h*t!, I better get on this!!’

I jumped in. Honestly, it was such a blur of stress and excitement and confusion. I googled, I called, I went back to every online business course I had taken from amazing and successful women and I built a business plan that I was so proud of. Still am. I crunched ambiguous numbers that I pulled from fictional places. I guessed. I made meticulous lists of front and back of house needs and the prices associated with them. I stalked coffee shops for hours to see how many people bought muffins and coffee. I got everything back to her a week later and I was feeling pretty good about myself, but also a little like maybe this particular size of shop was more than I could handle from the start, so I looked into some smaller options. Enter ‘Space #2’ that I got excited about. It was small and I would have to get creative, but there was already a kitchen in it! So much less construction! This realtor was MUCH more interested in where the money was coming from and accepted my business plan but informed me that I would not likely get a loan so I better figure that part out first. I don’t think he was a guidance counselor in a former life, but I will thank him for lighting a fire under me to figure out that pesky money problem.

There is an episode of Gilmore Girls where Lorelai has termites and needs a loan to fix her house, and every bank is refusing to help her - the tellers pass around the phone and laugh, or the banker she’s begged a million times finally has his assistant say he’s in France but she had just spoken with him 10 minutes ago. That is kind of how I felt. My long-time credit union was Washington based and couldn’t loan money for an Oregon business. Banks, even banks I had been a member with for years, wouldn’t give out a business loan unless you had two years of books from your business, some required three. You’re expected to start your business and run it successfully for two years before anyone will help you. And part of that I get - what proof do they have that you won’t go under? But honestly, two years on the books of a business that started with no money is probably not going to prove its worth for a $100k+ loan!! I digress. I finally found someone who actually spoke to me like a professional and took me into consideration. The three main components as to why he gave me a shot were as follows: 1. I was married and my husband had an income, 2. I had a great business plan & credit (go me!!), and 3. The SBA would have to secure it or else I was screwed. He sent me a ton of forms and requested three years of profit & loss statements, “projections of course”, like that was easier. Sure, I’ll go ahead and guess on a ton of numbers, then multiply by a growth rate I pull out of my butt, and you’ll have those three year projections, no problem!! I really pulled out the stops for this one. It was my only shot at money. I started the official loan process on July 22nd, 2016 (after I straight up asked him if it was a shot in the dark, to which he politely responded that he wouldn’t waste either of our time if it was a total shot in the dark - phew!).

Many emails followed with more forms and more people who needed to approve and more meetings that needed to be set. Finally the day came. October 19th. “Hi Katie, I finally got the SBA approval for your loan….” - just a casual email to let me know my dreams just might actually come true. I signed the papers on November 4th and proudly called up my realtor to tell her it was time to get down to business. Many property spec sheets came and went through emails but only a few had potential for me. Oh, are you wondering what happened to space #1 - no longer financially possible due to the work needed, and #2 - the first of a couple realtors who dropped off the face of the earth and stopped answering my emails and calls after working my butt off to adjust projections and such to be applicable to this space. Never the mind, let's talk about Space #3. Space three is where I got my next big reality check. You can plan it all out on paper, minimize what you do, have less seats, etc. but there are a lot of rules about food service and the SEVERAL sinks that were required. Space three had big dreams but got the axe when my kitchen planner essentially laughed in my face with the layout I was trying to pull off. This is when this particular realtor slowly sent me less and less options, or ones that were way out of my price range and then just stopped responding to me all together. I turned my sights to buying a business. The business, Space 4, wasn't worth what they wanted, but the rent was insanely cheap and we came to a number that I could handle even though there was much work to be done. February 10th, 2017, yes, we’re in February now - “Congratulations on your offer being accepted Katie!”. I cried. I screamed. I almost threw up. I was buying a business - it's happening!! (Spoiler alert: it didn't happen, but the crying part continued, even a little as I write this!) Long story short, there was about $12,000 worth of changes that needed to be made just to bring it up to code to become a food producing (not just selling) establishment. The landlord had no interest in assisting with that financial burden and I had the realtor telling me that he “didn’t think the grease trap or sink were necessary, but whatever” when I had my contractor and CITY OFFICIALS telling me they wouldn’t grant a permit without those changes. So, Space 4 was out. I began to look for a new realtor and had one recommended to me, however, she ghosted me too. I spoke with many more people who tried to show me more places than the one I had called about but no one listened to me. They sent me links of spaces literally next to other bakeries or ones THOUSANDS of dollars outside my price range. I’ll spare you the exact details on 5 and 6. Let’s just say landlords are greedy and following food service requirements in old buildings is hard, but trying to comply with new rules is even harder!!

Six was my last hurrah. This was ‘all in’. I re-wrote a floor plan for this location 4 or 5 times. I just found a few of those iterations while packing up our apartment and started to tear up. When this space didn’t work out, I had to make the heart-wrenching decision to give back my loan. Did I mention that I had been paying $1200/month since I signed the papers? It was now April. We simply could not afford to do this anymore. This was turning into something so far from what I had dreamt up in my head, and where I definitely knew it would never be perfect, I also knew I didn’t want my life’s work to be a shell of what I had originally envisioned. Another thing I had learned from my business courses was to know when it’s time to cut your losses and move on. So, I walked into the credit union that I had so boldly and excitedly entered to receive the loan, to give it all back, plus the $6k+ I now owed due to paying the loan payments with the loan. I cried. The teller was so sweet and didn’t ask too many questions. I went to my car and cried. I called my mom and cried. I called my husband and cried. I went home and cried. I cried A LOT. But I knew it was time and I knew that it just wasn’t right if it wasn’t happening.

This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through. Not hard like losing my grandparents or when my husband’s company went bankrupt and he lost his job. Those were a different level. This broke my heart and made me feel like a failure. Throughout the process I was sad, discouraged, and many times felt stupid, but I persevered with great hope. Giving that money back felt like the end. I knew it wasn’t, but it sure felt like it. I spent time in bed in the middle of the day, I ate many spoonfuls of peanut butter out of the jar while watching Hallmark movies, and I lost interest in spending time in the kitchen. If you know me, you know that is NOT ME. Well, peanut butter and Hallmark is, but not being interested in the kitchen is not. I stopped working out, and had a general loss of interest in my normal everyday life. Every route I took somewhere in Portland, I passed a location that had passed on me and it broke my heart. Eventually, with great love from my family and friends, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and got a job. The people were amazing and I loved them, but oddly enough, it made me miss my kitchen life so much.

My husband was going through a tough time at work throughout all of this, and little did I know our lives were about to get another upset! Jordan decided to go back to the freelance world and took a temporary job at Google so we have made our way to San Francisco where we will stay for the next 6 months, before returning to be with our first love - New York City. While here in California, I plan to focus on a family cookbook dedicated to my Grandma - my mom and I have been working on bits and pieces for awhile now but it’s time to make it happen!  I am absolutely not giving up on the bakery dream, but it is not on my current horizon. I plan to have a lot more posts here, and want to dedicate my @juniper.fancy instagram to a more food/craft-centric feed, while keeping @katiethebaker for more of my personal life. To quote TSwift for the second time, ‘It’s a new soundtrack, I can dance to this beat’.

With a full heart and an empty plate,

Katie