Retiring from the Bakery Business

Bakery Life Lifestyle | Published May 23, 2022 by Mimi Council

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I've had people reaching out about the recent sale of my bake shop. I actually sold it in December of 2021, but we just hadn't made a formal announcement yet. So, if you're wondering about the recent sale of Dessert'D Organic Bake Shop, I thought I’d write it all here for those who are interested in my bake shop life and why I left it. It wasn't all fun and games, but it was definitely a wild ride that I wouldn't have traded for anything! And I am very thankful for that part of my life.

honey apple carrot cake

How It Started

I have loved baking since I was a kid, and you all know that if you follow along! And to be completely honest, I still love baking now if not more so than I did when I opened my bake shop. And, I created a successful bakery that has been open for over ten years! Then why sell it? That’s where it gets tricky. I will say that just because your business is doing well, it doesn't mean it's making you happy. Honestly, the bake shop was making me hate baking sometimes. And I never want to feel that way about something I love.

foodie tee shirt

How is that possible when you are baking for a living you might ask? Well… the story goes… I opened the bake shop when I was just 25 years old. I had the idea for years before while working my corporate job at Roxy. When we ended up moving to Mammoth, it just felt like it was the right time and the right spot, and it was. I ran into my friend Kimmy one day, and casually mentioned I was thinking of opening a bakery. Her eyes lit up, and she said she wanted to hear more. I had her and Chris over later that week and shared my idea. And for some crazy reason, they wanted to be a part of it!

Six crazy weeks later (yes people, 6 weeks!) I opened our doors and I had less than $500 to my name. I also had $15,000 in credit card debt from spending all the money I had, the investment from the Benchetler's, and still needing more to complete the opening of the shop (because you always need more money than you think!). And my sole drive for opening the bakery was not only to bake daily for work, but to also share my love of organic desserts free of artificial colors, preservatives, and additives with the community. I wanted to show people that dessert could be better. And I wanted to provide a better dessert option because there wasn’t one on the market. Back then, you couldn’t go into the grocery store and just buy organic cookies. That wasn't a thing. So I had to make them myself, if I wanted them. For me, it was all about the food. The food was what inspired me to open the bakery, and the food was what kept it going for ten years.

When I opened the shop, I had no clue about running a business. Sure, I had some ideas — you bake goods, you sell them, you make money, and you bring in more money than you spend. Pretty simple, sure. And, yes I was doing that from day one and paid off my credit card debt within that first year. But, there is so much more that goes into operating a business beyond the food, so much more that it’s not even funny.

Learning As I Went

At first, it was kinda fun — learning accounting, then hating accounting and realizing I could pay someone to do it for me. Learning all the other things as I was going was also a really fun challenge that I excelled at. And then figuring out that I was busy enough to need to hire help, then being super excited to hire my first employee. Then realizing employees are a huge pain in the ass.

Then there are taxes, workers comp, health permits, food certifications, dealing with vendors, running payroll, payroll taxes, costing, inventory, and so much more that is truly the absolute worst. Especially if you are a creative person, all this stuff is your worst nightmare. And, I did all of it. The only thing I passed off was my accounting, everything else I did myself – scheduling staff, running payroll, paying taxes, paying our credit cards, food ordering, paying vendors, writing checks, etc.

Same Thing Different Day

Your life can become inundated with the mundane tasks of running a business. Even while they are mundane, they are truly necessary and so very important to run a successful and profitable business, no matter how much you hate doing them! And you can pass them off, sure, but I felt like knowing my business was super important. Because if we had a down month I would know exactly what the numbers were. Or if we had a great month, I’d also know exactly what people were buying and I could adjust our daily menu to please our customers. And I felt that was a truly important piece for success.

As I took on more and more of a manager position at the bakery, the baking become second to all the other stuff I had to do. Yes, every day I was in there baking in the mornings and helping out in the kitchen in some way. But, at the same time I kept thinking — how many more Sprinkled Shortbread Cookies can I make before I hate them? And I don’t hate those cookies, I love them!

But, I was baking the same exact stuff every day… and I just started to get sick of it. And while it was my shop, I could have mixed it up every day if I wanted to, but that's not good for business. Customers crave consistency, and they need to be able to rely and count on the businesses that they know and love. So, having the same cookies my customers love, expect, and that built my business, was super important. So, there I was just making trays and trays of Sprinkled Shortbreads, among other popular menu items.

eggless sprinkle cookies

The Need to Be Creative

Baking is creative and it always has been for me. So to make the same stuff for days or weeks or years in a row, and then just going into my office to do all this boring stuff was just kinda waring on me. Yes, I was still creating new recipes for the bakery website and working on cookbooks, but it always felt like those were back burner things that I didn’t get to spend the majority of my time doing. I made time for them because they were important to me, but the bake shop took all my energy and was where I spent the bulk of my time. Not to mention probably more than half of the recipes on my blog are a bi-product of staff messing something up in the bakery and me not wanting to waste the ingredients! So, I created something out of what would have been waste. So, yes I was getting creative in a way but not in the same way as having true creative freedom. And that was just one part of the staffing problems that came with being located in a resort town.

The Staff

We went through staff like it was our job, not in a good way. And it’s not just us, this is everywhere in town. There is literally Help Wanted signs in every single business in town. At first, it was easy to say it's not just me, it's everyone. But, then after a while that really didn’t make me feel any better! Yes, we’ve had some truly amazing staff members over the years — but it's just been a handful. And the fact that I can only name a handful out of ten years is pretty disappointing. And I've had a staff of 6 to 11 for most of the time. So, as you can see there were many more that were not so great, and then there were some that were truly horrible. And this was one of the biggest reasons I decided to sell the bake shop.

I never would have thought in my wildest dreams that providing jobs would be so damn difficult! I thought I was doing our community a service. I thought that it was really cool to be able to provide a fun and creative way for people to make their living, not to mention a laid back and definitely sweet (pun intended) environment. I never thought that people would be so fucking stupid (for lack of a better word)! Working in the bakery was not a difficult job, detailed — yes, but difficult no. I didn't require any qualifications except a passion for organic food and the willingness to learn. When I put out my first hiring post on social media and sign in the window, I honestly thought I would have lots of applicants. I thought I would have many people to interview and choose from. When I had none within a few days, I was super confused. Little did I know, that was only the beginning.

And yes, I have high standards (obviously), so at first I was following my high standards at all times. If people were fucking it up, they were gone, no questions asked because I could just do it better myself. And I wasn’t going to pay someone to fuck it up, knowingly without even wanting to learn and improve, that’s just not cool! And it's bad business. But, I ended up being at the bakery for 15 hours a day, most days. And that's not sustainable for anyone, you need to be able to rely on others. It got to be so difficult to find people that I started to let stuff slide because I just couldn’t handle the stress of having to find someone to replace them. And that’s no way to run a business either. No one should have to lower their standards for their staff. Granted, it was always just small stuff like proper cleaning or stocking, missing an order, not returning a voicemail or text…lots of little mistakes that weren't end all be all, but still mattered. I have always been insanely strict about the food going out, that never changed, but the food was always a lot easier to control than everything else. And after a while something just had to give.

There will always be things employees won't like to do, but if there wasn't then it wouldn't be called work. It's a job! Even the less important things like wiping down the counters properly, stocking the kitchen, and filling the napkin holder, it all counts. And if employees are missing stuff, they need to be able to take constructive criticism in order to not miss that same thing the next time. I got to the point where for a while I just stopped telling people they forgot or missed stuff, as girls would just start crying over the stupidest things like forgetting to package cookies at night so they had to be thrown out, or sweeping properly. I mean c’mon, most all of this was common sense people! Common sense like close the refrigerator properly, re-stock the pastry case if you sell all the cookies, clean all the dirty dishes before you leave, lock the door! Simple stuff. We also had very detailed lists every day of what needed to be done. There were even checklists where you had to check stuff off and initial at close. I was a very organized boss. So there should’t have been so many problems, but people are just so damn lazy and entitled. And then the worse part is they want you to praise them for doing a terrible job!

Staffing Problems

This was tearing me up inside. I couldn’t keep the standards I wanted to, otherwise I would loose people because they just couldn’t handle doing something wrong or they would get butt hurt about not getting it right. I felt the business was suffering because of it and it was breaking my heart. This new generation of everyone gets a participation trophy is creating the worst workforce ever! I even got to the point where I was constantly giving praise and gifts to my staff so they would just love me and not leave. And even in my nice efforts I couldn't figure out why I was never respected very much as a boss. Was I too nice? I pretty much said yes to every single time-off request, every single thing someone asked me for, I said yes. Had I said no, people would have just quit and I needed them. So, I always made them feel like they were important and their requests mattered. Sometimes we compromised, but I always made sure my staff got what they needed, even if I didn't. I also gave people birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, Easter gifts — last year I got the whole staff Rifle Paper Co. Keds shoes (since your shoes get so fucked working in the shop) as an Easter surprise. I also would buy girls J.Crew gift cards, Dutch ovens, gas cards or other expensive and thoughtful gifts to show my appreciation and that I cared about them. Sometimes I didn't even get a thank you from people for a gift! Did they know that this was not customary from a boss?

I treated my staff as well as I could for being as small of a business as we were. I paid them all as much as I could afford. I leant staff money when they needed it, I gave them snowboards, outerwear, goggles and things to get them inspired to play outside in the mountains and enjoy where we live. I made them dinners at my house, I bought them passes to the mountain, I created a website for one of their side hustles once, I even paid for health insurance for one when she couldn't afford it. I bought them organic snacks and food so we had food at work at all times and took their requests for what they wanted so no one was ever hungry on their shift (4 to 6 hour shifts, mind you). I gave them the freedom they asked for when they simply didn't want to come in (powder day, mental health day, spontaneous trip, etc.) or physically couldn't come in, and I never once ever wrote up anyone for anything. I even hired a cleaning lady so my staff wouldn't have to mop and clean the bathroom, and I also offered my supervisors profit sharing, out of my shares. I literally couldn't keep giving anymore without getting much respect in return. And, even when we were hiring, we rarely even got applicants to choose from. So, when we did get one I ended up giving them a shot as long as they were available to work! Sometimes people I didn't like in an interview ended up surprising me, but most of the time they didn't. So, I really didn't know what else to do as it was the biggest strain on my life, my energy, my emotions, and on the business.

I even had one girl stealing ingredients from me last year, and I contemplated firing her because I was that desperate for staff. Because if I hadn’t figured that out I would have thought she was doing a good job! But that’s not okay, and it’s not an okay situation to be in. Obviously, I fired her the next day, but the fact that I even thought about it for a minute really upset me. It wasn’t okay that the lack of good people caused my judgment to lapse even for a minute. Security cameras are key in any business, and they gave me so much insight into a lot of my staff. But, I hated watching them. I felt like I was spying on people and the fact that I was watching them just confirmed that there was no trust, which was just upsetting on its own. Plus it was a huge waste of my time to have to watch camera footage because people weren't doing their jobs. It was very draining and the cycle seemed like it would never end, as we had a medium sized staff and someone was always on their way out leaving me to fill the gap.

High Standards

I just kept thinking of not being able to uphold my standards for employees and my business, having employees take advantage of me, realizing I'd never have help from our additional partner who we brought on solely to work in the bake shop, and realizing I have been working every single day for the last ten years and it would most likely continue like this. I didn't have time to focus on the bigger picture for the bake shop, because I was too busy doing day to day things. And then I had to make peace with all of those realizations, as they were facts at this point because it had been ten years! Part of being a good business owner is not getting blinded by your love of what you do, and looking at the business as a whole. When I took a step back and looked at it from that perspective, I couldn't see it changing because of factors such as where we live, the lack of people here, and the standards that I wasn't willing to compromise on. And all of that added up to feelings I didn't like, and they became associated with a place I loved more than anything. It was a love hate relationship, and I didn't want the business side of things to sour my love and passion for baking.

Difficult Decisions

So, then I had to try to decide the best course of action for myself and the business. It was breaking my heart on so many levels. But, I was also so burnt out that the heart break was just a second feeling. This wasn't the way this was supposed to play out. I never imagined selling the bake shop. I never imagined it not being a part of my life. I thought I would hand it down to Kimmy's and our additional partner's children, as I'm not having kids of my own. But, then when I thought of that — it made me wonder why I was working so damn hard for it if there was no end game for me. It is difficult for me to put myself ahead of others, but this situation finally forced me to do so.

Plus, I just had so many other freelance projects and things going on that I just couldn't keep up with everything I had to do. And worst of all I just didn't want to, and it just finally became time that I was okay with admitting it. I had run a successful business for over ten years! I founded the first brick and mortar completely organic bakery in the country. I proved our business model, I built a loyal customer base, I filled a void that was needed in our small town, I survived Covid, and I had a growing business. We were shipping 100 orders a week online when I sold. All of those things were probably why it was so hard to make the decision, because when your business is doing well it's not usually the course of action. But sometimes it's not always about the business. You have to value your time and personal life as well, something I haven't put much value on since becoming an entrepreneur. But, I also had learned so much in the last ten years, that had I known what I know now, I don’t know if I would have even opened the bake shop in the first place. And I know that sounds absolutely bananas!

I remember when I was first thinking of opening it, my friends aunt owned a brownie company in LA and she put us in touch. She was kind enough to take my call and answer some of my questions I had about starting a bakery. And my last question I asked her was, Is there anything else you want to share or think I should know? And she said, Yes, if I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have started this. And I was so confused by her very dry response, as I had no idea what she even meant! She had a successful brownie business for years, and I think Oprah has even had her brownies. How could she say she never would have started it? I couldn’t even fathom what she meant at the time. But, I’ve thought about it a lot recently, and I know exactly what she means, exactly. Will Ferrel has eaten my desserts along with Bill Walton, Adam Scott, Ian Harding, Sasha Vujacic, Leann Rimes, and many more. But that is one small detail of a way bigger picture that I now see very clearly. Once you get in, and you are in this job, it can be very difficult to get out. You have a successful bake shop, you make a living, people love your stuff, you're serving your community with something that is needed, yet there is so much you are doing that sometimes you question if it's worth all the time and stress.

Blood, Sweat & Tears

This business takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to be successful, and when you are it feels fucking good. It's a sweet high that doesn't compare to much else. And then you think about what you're making, and the people who love it enough to buy it, and then that makes you so incredibly happy. So then you keep doing what you do! And when you're the owner, all these other people rely on you, so it's a very difficult decision to make. And I completely get it now. One of the scenarios I used to make this decision was that I removed my relationships from it. For example, I thought – what if it was just me? What if I didn't have a family, didn't have partners, didn't know or care about my staff or customers? What would I decide to do then? Would I be happy spending my days the way I spend them now? I am easily affected by pleasing others, it's part of the reason why I was successful in this niche. But, when you take people out of the equation and it's just you, it will force you to think about how you want to spend your time, and what would actually make you happy. And that's when I realized – my day to day was not making me happy.

Decision to Sell

So, all of this just added up to me knowing I couldn’t continue running the bake shop anymore. At least I couldn't do it and be happy. I care about the work that I do, and I want the people I work with to have the same mindset, because to me work is fun and it's not just a job. I wanted to work with people who felt the same way, and who were excited about the mission. And I wasn't getting that from my staff for a long time. So that's when I decided the best decision was to sell. I listed it privately for a month or two before I even thought of telling my partners. I did this because I wanted to see how I felt about it first, because I wasn't completely sure. Kimmy had thrown out the idea of selling the previous year during Covid, and I shot it down so fast. But, it's amazing what some time and perspective can do. So when it felt right, we announced it publicly as we wanted to be transparent with our customers as they are so important. We had it for sale for months with interest, but no one committing. It was a challenging time because of Covid, and we are in a very challenging location to sell a business because we are so remote and it's such a small town.

While the business was doing well, and that was why I was hoping for a sale, it was draining me more and more. I also knew that if I took on more wedding bookings for the next season, I'd be committed to another year or more because I'd feel too bad later down the road to cancel any of them. And I knew I couldn't commit for another year plus, that much I knew. So when we had it listed for months without anyone committing, I just had to make the incredibly difficult decision that I knew would be best for myself and my happiness at the time. I had to put myself before the business. So, I decided I was going to close it. And the moment I decided, I felt so much relief! And I think there was a huge shift in universal energy in that single moment. My energy wasn't tied to the bakery anymore, and the bakery knew that it had to get life from another source. I told Kimmy that day about my decision and she supported me as she always has. We had planned to tell the staff the following day, as I wanted them all to be first to know. I also wanted to help them all secure other jobs in town, as I knew everyone was hiring and would have no problem helping them all find a job. We were also supposed to start prepping for a wedding gala, and I wasn't going to go to it if we wouldn't be able to commit to weddings, so I couldn't let them start baking all kinds of desserts either.

But the first person I happened to tell was my friend Cathleen. I was talking to her later that day about one of our weddings the previous weekend, as she had been delivering all of our weddings through her delivery business in town. That led to talking about our invoice. And then I told her to invoice me this month and she could add on our last wedding for the coming month, as I could pay her all at once (as I was thinking of wanting to settle up outstanding invoices on my end). When she kept insisting to leave her invoice open as we might need something because she's so incredibly kind and generous, I just broke down and told her that we wouldn't need anything as I was closing up! It was the only way she was going to invoice me, haha. She was so sad, simply because she was just a true fan of the bake shop. I've known her for over ten years, as she has been coming in since day one! We've worked together on many weddings, special orders for clients, tons of deliveries, and many other things as our businesses have always complimented each other well.

Cathleen went on to talk about how there's someone she knows in town who she thought would be perfect to take over, and I had heard this name from a few other people too, but I didn't know her. So Cathleen said, she was going to just reach out to her first before I decide to close. Okay, I said, it doesn't hurt even though my mind is made up. When her text the next morning said that the girl had moved out of town, I just figured back to plan A. I had even asked my supervisor to come in early that day, and I was going to tell her first. Then Cathleen's next text said she would love take over operations, and was honestly thinking about it. That led to a meeting that morning, which led to Cathleen getting really excited. It led to meeting with my staff, even though she already knew them. And, it snowballed from there!

Free to Let Go

When I truly decided to let go of something I have cared so deeply about for so many years was when change finally started to happen. I was ready to sell when I listed it, or maybe even before then. But, maybe there was something that I was still holding onto. I don't know what it was, or why, but when I truly let go and actually felt free to let go regardless of the outcome is when it all fell into place. The funny thing about energy is it doesn't lie, even if your brain does. So, when I finally just let go and allowed whatever to happen, the universe threw up a Hail Mary and said, this shop isn't going to close we're going to find it a new operator. And it did it fucking fast, and honestly probably found it the best person I could have asked for. It seems too plain and simple looking back at it now, but I just never thought of Cathleen before as she already had her own business. But Cathleen is a truly amazing business woman, something I've known for a really long time and respected. She does all the difficult things with grace that I am so terrible at like keeping great relationships with other business owners, truly great customer service, managing a staff, and more. I know how hard she works, how much she works, I knew that the bake shop would be in amazing care in her family, and that our community would be grateful for her for keeping it going.

But like I said, for me it was always about the food. Not about owning a bakery or a business. A bake shop was the means to share the food and mission that food can be better for you and for the environment. Organic food is an option, and not only is it an option, but it tastes even better! And I proved that with my desserts. I’ve never cared about owning a shop, being a boss, or even an entrepreneur. I never cared about the title or status that came with it all. I didn’t join any of the business groups in town, the Chamber of Commerce, or go to any women business meetings or things of that nature because it just didn’t seem important, because it wasn’t about the food. When I used to work at the front counter people would ask daily if I was the owner. And I would just say no more times than not. I didn’t want the attention or the questions, I just wanted to get back into the kitchen and get back to baking. So I would just tell them I’m a baker so they’d leave me alone. Because to me, that’s what I have always been. And I will always be a baker. Whether I own a bake shop or not, I will never stop baking and creating new recipes.

The Silver Lining

And, I am especially thankful for my customers who pushed me to start my blog and share recipes! If it wasn’t for you and all your requests, I never would have found my true passion for writing cookbooks. It led me to write Cookies for Everyone, and led Kimmy and I to write The Mountain Baker. And now you can preorder my third book, Effortless Eggless Baking! The bake shop made Kimmy and I published authors! And I also learned so much about marketing while running the bake shop, so much so that I've helped other businesses and brands with their marketing efforts as a result through my company Above 8000 Creative. Marketing, creating new recipes, and food photography has been what I have been focusing on the last few years, and it’s what I will be doing going forward. I have found my true calling and it's in the creative space helping brands shine the best that they can through good creative. I have an eye for branding, style, and I have experience in growing an audience through content marketing. I had no idea that this could be a career ten years ago. I just thought if you wanted to bake, you ran a bakery. But that is so not the case anymore, there are so many other ways to work with food! But, sometimes you have to go through the trenches to get to the other side. And finally I’m on that other side, and it feels damn good!

effortless eggless baking

There are definitely things I will miss about owning a bake shop though. I will miss the feeling of seeing an empty pastry case after a busy day. I will miss creating new desserts and then figuring out if they are cost effective enough to sell, yes I'm a nerd about costing and margins and I always loved that part of the business! But, I am doing this on a consulting basis now for new restaurants. Email me if you would like to discuss your project. And I'll miss all the creative things I was doing for the bakery like designing our website, branded merchandise, and even buying for our retail section. But mostly, I will miss seeing and baking for all my regular customers. The ones who have supported us from the beginning, through good times and bad, donated to others in need through us during the pandemic, and so much more. All of my regular customers are so kind, and their warm spirits and generosity will never be forgotten by me. And the feeling they gave me by enjoying the desserts I created is something that I will cherish forever.

But, I hope all my customers will find recipes here, in a way we can still be connected through food. I am always here should you want to discuss a recipe or have a request! Do not hesitate to email me! And I also hope all of my customers will continue to support the new owners like you have supported me for the last ten years. They loved what I created so much, that they wanted to keep it going. And that's a huge compliment to me, but that also speaks very highly of them! So, you should realize in this moment how cool they are.

girl eating a chocolate cookie in the kitchen wearing a butter tee shirt

The Takeaway

So I am not sad, it's just the opposite, I am incredibly happy! And I am very thankful for the bakery and all the things it gave me, and all the sweets I was able to give to others over the last ten years. And, I am so thankful for my partners Kimmy and Chris Benchetler who have been supporting my vision since day one. We became family through the mission of the bake shop. Together we created an amazing bakery that served our small town for the last ten years, and now it will continue to do so even if we are on the outside looking in. And that is something to be truly proud of.

So what am I doing now? I'm still working in the kitchen, but it's my home kitchen – creating new recipes for you all right here. I'm also consulting and recipe developing for new restaurants, shooting food photos for brands, and my third book, Effortless Eggless Baking is coming out in the fall! So there will definitely be more baking for me. Like I said, I am a baker.

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butter college hoodie in mustard

4 responses to “Retiring from the Bakery Business”

  1. Kim says:

    So sad to hear about all the difficulties you had. But so happy you were there to bake the most delicious desserts for our wedding in 2015! And I’m also happy to hear that your putting your happiness & well being first & leaving the bakery. Cheers to the next chapter of your life 🥂

    • mimibakescookies says:

      Thank you Kim, I appreciate that! So glad I was able to bake all your wedding desserts!

  2. Methia Gordon says:

    This hits home on so many levels! You could say I’m in the trenches now of bakery ownership, on year 12. One day I’m exhausted, tired of being the one making all the decisions and ready to throw in the towel to the next day being re-energized by my amazing customers and community. I know I’m in transition,, I just don’t know in what direction.

    • mimibakescookies says:

      Aw, I feel you! It’s such a difficult transition to be in, I’m sure you have so much love for what you do and who you do it for. My email and DM is always open should you want to talk more! I’m always here for my fellow bakers!

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