I’ve always had a passion for food. My parents grew up in Louisiana and if you meet someone from there, they’re like Italians: They’re obsessed with food.
I went to New Orleans this year for the first time since Hurricane Katrina, and within 10 minutes I was talking to someone about how to cook something. I felt very emotional –my entire childhood was like that and I just thought everyone grew up with food like I did.
My parents were both wonderful cooks—my dad spoke so passionately about James Beard, it was as if he were a relative. As soon as I got home from school, I put my backpack down, got in the kitchen and started helping. Everyone had a responsibility to be part of the meal.
My parents were quite healthy and weren’t really into desserts or sugar. I became the dessert girl and got very creative about making things with chunky peanut butter and Louisiana cane syrup!
Perhaps surprisingly I didn’t go into food immediately. My undergrad degree was in psychology and my graduate degree was in gerontology. I worked with the American Cancer Society right out of grad school as their development director—it was an amazing job. At that time all my friends were getting jobs with pharmaceutical companies. I loved my job but Merck came courting and eventually I bit. I spent eight years there promoting a drug for osteoporosis—so, somewhat related to my degree. I was good at my job and it provided a lot of opportunities, but I wasn’t passionate about it. I was spending my off hours baking and realized I needed a change.
I moved to Madison just as I had my youngest child and I took a leave from my job. Madison broke me wide open and returned me to my roots. I realized I wanted my kids to grow up like I had—appreciating food. I started reading voraciously, including everything Michael Pollan wrote. I haunted the farmers’ market.
I realized I wanted to open a business related to cooking and baking. I applied for a fundamentals of small business program through the state and got in. It was amazing to work my brain like that. I had three kids under the age of five and I’d bring them to the library while I worked on my business plan.
I showed the plan to a business consultant who couldn’t understand my vision. But I kept working on the plan—failing on paper—and finally she said, “I can see this.”
We started doing test marketing. I did an apprenticeship at a bakery—a vocation vacation! I talked to a friend who ran a patisserie and she helped me understand how important waste management would be to our success. Our ingredients are like gold—there’s nothing conventional.
My mission was to be about where food comes from. Not only can you taste the difference, you can also help support the local economy. But you’ve got to focus on the margins—you can’t say “Please pay $5 for my cupcake because of my ingredient profile.” You have to be competitive.
I found my original space (in Middleton) and we opened in 2010 in the thick of the recession. I wanted to bake and create joy—I was so naïve! We started in 600 feet and my goal was to be the corner bakery. It was a very grass roots operation with little paid advertising. We quickly outgrew the space but kept going for two years. And in 2016 we took the leap of faith and opened a second place on Monroe St.
I never planned to even have two shops—and certainly not a Bloom on every corner. Our society thinks bigger is better, but that’s never been the case for me.
It was a big deal to go from 600 square feet to 4300; an entirely different business. Both shops grew, but it was becoming exhausting to run back and forth. I wasn’t seeing my kids. I was spending all my time in my car.
Finally, I decided it was only worth pouring all this energy and effort into two places if it also allowed me to give back to the community.
We came up with the idea of turning the Middleton shop into what came to be known as Bloom Bindery. We only sold one baked item—ice cream sandwiches—plus drinks and gave a percentage of the profits to support literacy initiatives. We partnered with Joanne Berg (the owner of Mystery to Me bookstore on Monroe St), who sold a curated selection of books at the shop.
Issues around time and being torn by having two shops continued to be challenging and overwhelming. In the middle of the holiday madness, I didn’t lock my car and someone stole a week’s worth of deposits and my computer. I felt so violated and exhausted.
I knew in my heart I needed to close the Middleton business, although it was doing really well. I went to a neighbor and friend for some perspective and she said “I think you know what to do.” She was right.
I talked to my family—they were in complete support. And to my team. Once I made the decision, I didn’t look back. The week we moved out of the Middleton location was nine years to the day of when we moved in. It was very cathartic. My motto at that point became “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
I’ve come to see that I am good at creating and executing a business—and I currently have five in one with Bloom (weddings, catering, the bakery, the café and a VW bus for dessert parties). I’ve started doing some consulting and that might be a great way to use those start-up skills.
My most memorable caffeine is my relationship with Just Coffee. I’ve always loved their transparency and commitment to fair trade. When I was getting ready to open, I went in and said, “I have a dream and you’re in it.” A year later they were my coffee purveyor.
I’m probably one of their smaller customers, but they’ve always treated me like I’m one of their most important. They taught me a lot about how to run a business and how to treat people. How to be generous and kind-hearted.
Just Coffee also created a blend for us. They actually came up with two and we had our customers vote.
My current caffeine of choice is just a solid cup of coffee. A good medium roast.
My favorite place for caffeine is my front porch with my fiancée, Mark.
I just finished Alice Water’s autobiography, I’ve eaten at her restaurant and I’ve met her. She changed the way we eat salad in this country. She kept her head down and was passionate about food. She didn’t have an agenda, she just wanted to create a great meal. I’d love to sit down with Alice and hear her story firsthand.
World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine. One of my kids is working to tackle climate change, so I’ll leave that one up to her.
For myself, I’d like the clarity to show my amazing team how much I value them. I’m able to be here drinking coffee because I knew people would be at Bloom at three in the morning, working with passion and grace.
Food service is a tough job. I work hard to make sure my employees know they’re appreciated and spend a lot of time trying to learn more about this.
I try to act like a corporation in terms of having structure, but other than that I throw the rules out.
When I’m hiring, I profile for kindness. You can train someone to do a task or run a department, but you can’t train kindness.