Cheryl Burr of Pinkie's Bakery: 'I Wanted to Make My Own Stuff'
Burr: When we originally opened in October 2008, Pinkie's was just a wholesale operation selling bread to restaurants. It was just me, operating out of a commercial kitchen on DeHaro. I started out with four wholesale accounts and was able to break even right away, doing all the deliveries myself. I'd drop off samples at favorite restaurants and talk to the chefs. That turned into more accounts, and as the business grew I started hiring people.
How did you start your retail business?
I was in the shared commercial space for about a year. Then my good friend Chris Beerman started using the kitchen for Bento 415, his lunch takeout business. He was just planning on doing delivery, but the kitchen had this random storage area with frontage, and we thought, let's see if the landlord will rent us this space to sell Chris's lunch boxes and my baked goods. We ran that from November 2009 to May 2010. It was awesome ― both of our businesses blew up.
Since we have 24-hour access to the kitchen now ― before, it was 10 hours ― it opened up the possibility of doing custom cakes. I have way more employees and space. We're doing more breakfast pastries, trying different things.
Let me run a thought by you. Do you think this new wave of pastry shops opening up is because fewer restaurants are hiring full-time pastry chefs?
I do think opportunities for pastry chefs are drying up. When restaurants need to trim the fat, the first to go is the pastry chef. Pastries don't make money ― they're there for convenience and delight. If you break it down in terms of food costs, desserts lose money, so the restaurant depends on the volume of guests and wine sales to make a profit.
That wasn't the reason I went on my own, however. I felt like I had learned the most that I cared to learn working under other people. When you feel capped out like that, it's time to work for yourself. Restaurant culture treats the pastry department badly. All that macho stuff. The line cooks will always steal your mise en place, steal your pans, eat your cookies ― and we get paid least of everyone.
I know my stuff's good, and so I figured I'm going to sell it to the public, gosh darnit. So for me, I guess going on my own was partially because I have a problem with authority (laughs), and partly because I wanted to make my own stuff.