As the local food and farm-to-table movement expands, the time is ripe to create your own self-employed livelihood and business. Are you someone who loves to cook, baking up hand crafted items, like scones, muffins and artisanal breads? Learn from lawyer turned bakery entrepreneur, Joanne Sherif, as she shares her inspiring story of launching Cardamom Café and Bakery in San Diego and finding her life’s passion, one croissant at a time.
“There’s something about dough that so resonates with me,” shares Sherif with a smile as she plates up one of her renowned almond croissants. Hard core homemade, she even makes her own almond paste. “Dough is alive and full of connections. When I knead dough, I feel like I’m importing something of myself into what I create. This is my true calling and passion.”
Starting a food business at any stage in life involves risks and courage, but a career detour from attorney to baker at midlife ushers in its own set of challenges – and opportunities. “I may not have had restaurant experience, but I had raised five kids, earned a law degree and worked as a special education advocate, which add up in skills. The bakery idea was always in the back of my mind for years and I was baking at home for my family. Nine years ago proved to be the right time and space to launch the café.”
Following one’s heart while developing a successful business strategy is a connecting theme in the inspiring women stories of farm and food entrepreneurs I write about in my book, Soil Sisters: A Toolkit for Women Farmers. Sherif exemplifies how a local food venture can be both be financially sustainable while building community and bringing people together through food.
Does the idea of running your own business where you create hand-crafted items every day and work for yourself sound like your dream gig? Read on as Sherif shares her tips and insights for following your heart, finding your passion and creating a successful livelihood:
Embrace new life chapters
“I’m a firm believer that difficulties can make you stronger. There are a million reasons why something might fail, but we can’t let that cloud our vision and miss opportunities,” Sherif advises. Several things happened in her life at once, through which she realized these were signs to launch: an ideal retail space opened up and she knew she needed to move on and leave her marriage. “I knew it was time to dive into whatever newness life had in store for me.”
Listen and adapt
Customer feedback drives Sherif as she really listens to what people say and want. “Originally, I wasn’t going to offer menu items and stick to just baked goods, but we had created an inviting place and folks wanted to linger and eat a meal, so we expanded the menu.”
She also believes in empowering employees to take charge and make decisions on their own when they see a need to improve or fix things. “It takes a village to run a business and we all need to feel that our input and opinion matters in its success.”
Involve your kids
Sherif started Cardamom Café and Bakery while several of her kids were in high school and they all played an integral role in the business, developing skills and a work ethic she feels will serve them well in life’s long run.
“All my kids started by working in the dish pit, the hardest job we have,” explains Sherif. “Some of my kids got fired multiple times, but they knew they could always come back,” she adds with a laugh. “Remember you know your kids best and value their perspective and input in the business. It’s the best training ground for real life.”
Feed your soul
“Restoration is important to continue to be innovative,” reflects Sherif. “I know I need to feed my soul to be whole, creative and passionate about the Café.” To achieve this, she has taken art classes at night and travels when possible, such as a trip to Big Sky, Montana when her daughter moved there. “When I’m her at the Café, I’m truly excited to be here. I’ve just realized the importance of immersive experiences away from the business to keep that flowing.”
“Every day I thank each employee of mine as they walk out the door,” adds Sherif. “It’s all about building connections with each other that ensure any situation thrives, especially a food business that’s hard work on your feet daily. Starting a bakery and café is not a solo journey at all. I am grateful for my village.”
Love the baking idea but you don’t feel ready to jump to a storefront and retail? Thanks to increasing opportunities under state’s cottage food laws, remember you can readily start a bakery business in your home kitchen if you are baking and selling non-hazardous items, generally items lower in moisture and that do not need refrigeration. Most breads, cookies and muffins would qualify. Homemade for Sale book provides you with the key information to get started out of your home kitchen. This is an easy on-ramp to experiment and test your bakery ideas before taking on larger investments or potentially debt.
Lisa Kivirist is a writer, the author of Soil Sisters and founder of the Rural Women's Project of the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service. She is also Senior Fellow, Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems at the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota. With her husband and photographer, John D. Ivanko, she has co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef. They also operate Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.
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